15 Jul 2009
Events in the past few years have provided an interesting wake-up call for businesses in the UK – face the fact that times are changing and our working habits must reflect this. The London bombings in 2005 as well as the recent extreme weather conditions and G20 riots this year have all been examples of when a substantial chunk of London’s workforce was made to ‘log on’ from an alternate location. Following the Government’s Operational Efficiency report in April, The Times notes that with UK national debt set to surpass £2trn, civil servants are even being encouraged to make better use of office space and allow vacant property to be sold, forcing them to work elsewhere. In light of all these pressures, how can companies effectively enable the workforce to remain productive outside of the office walls?
According to the Public Sector Forum, the benefits of flexible working practices include improved employee productivity; where down time is turned into productive time, reduced sick leave and absenteeism by 4-5 days per year, and a shrinking of employees’ carbon footprints as they no longer need to be in a business location to conduct operations. The UK government is even showing its support of this working trend by enforcing a new legislation that gives parents with children under 16 the right to work flexibly. A TUC spokesman commented that the new law: “is not only important in allowing individuals to better manage work with other commitments, but as research has shown, it enables businesses to operate more effectively in a changed society.” It is also a fact that fresh talent is entering the workplace with a new set of expectations. ‘Generation Y’ has prioritised work-life balance, and employers are having to meet their demands by taking their work flexibility demands seriously.
Flexible working is still tarnished as an HR benefit as opposed to a solid business growth proposition. But the recession has forced many companies to rethink how they can save money by reducing their office space for example while enabling mobile workers to stay productive.
According to a report recently carried out by CBS Outdoor, in conjunction with the Future Foundation, mobile working practices are boosting the nation’s economy by around £9bn a year. Relaxing the constraints on the workforce can actually help to attract and retain more talent, but companies have to be able to see transparent ROI from this working practice.
What holds many back, particularly in the SME market, is the preconception that this is going to be a costly and complicated process. However, mobilising the workforce can be inexpensive, yet still effective, and businesses from a variety of sectors are proving it. So how can companies initiate a mobile strategy? The huge array of technologies available can be daunting.
Consumerisation of the workplace has hit full force with an increasing number of shiny handhelds entering the market and being brought in to the office by employees. In fact, according to research carried out by In-Stat, Smartphone use is set to double by 2013, and O2 have already sold over one million iPhones in the UK. However, in reality, the workforce can start to work flexibly by simply using a laptop and mobile phone. In many cases keeping it simple is crucial. Low employee adoption is a common complaint from companies that invest in technology as a quick fix, but then don’t pay the necessary attention to product training or even take the time to encourage staff to make full use of the new tool.
When looking to deploy a mobile working strategy, companies need to also be aware of the possible risks associated with sending its workforce out to connect in the wild. With employees becoming increasingly mobile, working anywhere and at any time, security must be a priority, particularly in light of recent scrutiny over the true safety of public Wi-Fi. MyCustomer.com notes that according to security firm SafeNet, more than 40 percent of businesses do not have security policies around accessing company data through mobile devices, almost double the figures since 2008. The IT manager will need to have complete control over enforcing VPN access and terminating a connection if the firewall has failed – connecting to public networks without this is like leaving the key in the lock. Keeping all remote devices up-to-date with patches will also help to further batten down the hatches to prevent any fresh security threats.
With the above in mind, should the corporate world be taking the benefits of flexible working more seriously? The answer is absolutely. With the increasingly prevalent availability of Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband, connectivity-hungry business users are demanding, and are being served, more and more ways to access corporate resources. It is important that companies take stock and think outside of the box (or the office walls) and look at how they can reap the rewards of loosening the leash on their employees.
Matt Cooke, Senior Product Marketing Manager, iPass