Why companies could be set for a flexible working revolution

Working flexibly can be great for morale and productivity but many companies are held back by cultural obstacles. Mark Grant at Dimension Data says it's time to build a manifesto for smarter work.

Why do so many of us work in offices? Is it really because they are the best place for people to work, or because for so many people, for so many years, they were the only place to work?

In the days of landlines, before laptops or the internet, when workplaces relied heavily on manual admin and paper-based processes, where we worked and how we worked were as inextricably linked as they were inflexible.

But the way many of us work now has changed dramatically. Thanks to improved technology and connectivity many of us can work wherever, or whenever we want.

We can build our days around when we can be most productive and we can fit our working week around commitments such as family.

Managed properly, evidence suggests that the benefits of smarter working to the business are considerable too, from increased productivity to improved staff morale and retention.

Culture is crucial

Of course, not everybody can work in this way. Many people still need to be in a given location.

But for all those who can and want to work flexibly or remotely, there are still many who don't. Often the reason is because the company culture either doesn't support, or even positively disdains progressive working practices.

At Dimension Data we have helped many companies empower their workforce and enabled their people to become more flexible and productive.

But despite the technology being available and being secure, there are still organisations that resist a move to smarter ways of working.

This is why we are trying to cut through these cultural issues and persuade employers and employees to discuss five key principles that we have written into a Manifesto for Smarter Working.

If businesses can agree on these points they will be on the path to a more open, more trusting and more productive conversation about smarter working:

We agree the office is just one place we can work: Even the sleekest of offices only suit most of the people, most of the time. There will always be instances where the office isn't the best environment to work.

We do not need excuses to work smarter: Many people feel the need to excuse remote working with reasons unrelated to work, such as waiting in for a plumber. But "I will get more work done, to a higher standard" should be the only reason anybody needs.

We know trust isn't about turning up: Healthy relationships rely on trust earned through mutual respect and value. We shouldn't have to be in an office for people to truly believe we're working.

We believe great work can happen any time: When we do our best work is rarely dictated by what time it is. What matters most is delivering the best work possible, with consideration for others involved in the process.

We value working smarter over working longer: Being first in and last out doesn't mean someone is working better or harder. We need to evolve the way we measure performance to focus on productivity, not hours and minutes.

Business benefits

This isn't just about giving staff a better work-life balance or a few perks. There are significant business issues.

Dimension Data's research suggests there will be a 40% increase in the proportion of large businesses that support flexible working within the next two years.

Furthermore, nearly half (49%) say they will have some employees working full time from home within two years.

Such trends are setting expectations among the general workforce at a time when competition for talent is heating up.

Whether those businesses resisting such trends like it or not, the best talent will increasingly be able to choose employers that offer the best working conditions and practices for them.

Companies that cannot offer smarter ways of working will see the retention and attraction of top talent become increasingly difficult.

There are also wider economic factors to consider. Overcrowding in major cities such as London and the rising cost of living, housing and office space, is making an increasingly compelling case for relocation and decentralisation.

Remote and flexible ways of working can help businesses cut costs while creating very real savings for their workforce in housing and travel costs.

The fact that so many people still work in offices is undoubtedly a legacy of the way we used to have to work.

But many people no longer have to work in such ways, and it's time to kickstart important conversations about how they should work in the future.