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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Interview: Andrew Millard, Senior Director Marketing EMEA, Citrix

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1. Are trust issues created by mobile working arrangements or do we just have an endemic problem of low-trust workplaces, which is highlighted and emphasised by the geographical remoteness of mobile working?

It’s hard to argue with the advantages that remote and mobile working offers, both from an employee and business perspective. However, when it comes to actually moving to mobile working arrangements some managers do still clearly fear that ‘out of sight’ can mean out of mind: In fact, a recent poll of senior executives carried out by YouGov on behalf of Citrix showed that 43% of managers still believe unsupervised employees can’t be trusted to work as hard away from their office as they do within it.

For these reasons, discussions around flexible working need to address any management concerns upfront. They should also take into consideration the important commercial advantages for organisations, such as the opportunity to attract new talent or operate more cost-efficiently by reducing office and travel costs.

It’s also worth considering that flexible working is not just a one-way street: Just as employees are becoming more forthright in their requests for fewer restrictions on time and location, many employers now also expect a high degree of flexibility and extra time from their workforce – especially when there’s a big deadline looming or they need to engage with overseas colleagues or clients in different time zones.

Far from being irreconcilable opposites, if successful, flexible working can help to balance the goals and aspirations of both the business and the individual.

2. Software allows bosses to ‘more closely monitor’ staff but this would surely lead to resentment more than trust. Isn’t it less about giving managers the tools to check up on employees and more about finding out what promotes trust and engagement in the workplace so there’s no need to check up on staff?

For the most part, remote working technologies are not so much ‘big brother’ technologies but rather geared-up to enable users to work at home, on the road, or from a client’s site, keeping colleagues and clients connected, as opposed to serving as a way for managers to check-up on productivity.

The latest HD video-conferencing, remote meeting and web application-sharing tools emulate almost all aspects of physical face-to-face engagements, enabling staff to be equally effective in working with customers and colleagues, irrespective of location. Rather than operating in isolation, the interactive nature of these collaborative technologies will give the employee more choice and opportunity to interact in the same way they would in the office.

Again, trust is key: Rather than ‘checking up,’ interactions should be more about ‘checking in’ – i.e. giving employees a level of freedom to manage their workload but also having the structures in place to regularly engage with them.

Ultimately, the output and results being achieved is the most important aspect to concentrate on. As such, the focus for managers should be finding appropriate ways to set goals and targets, enable their team to work towards them and measure what has been achieved.

3. Flexible working is appropriate in many cases but not in all – contrary to popular belief it doesn’t work along demographic lines, so not all Generation Y approve of flexible working, for example. Is it realistic to implement flexible working for only a proportion of the workforce?

While it’s true that not all of generation Y ‘approve’ of flexible working, it’s also a misconception to think that demand for flexible working is coming only from generation Y.

When it has been possible, many parents and even grandparents, for instance, have also welcomed the flexibility to structure their work around childcare requirements, while many other professionals of all ages see the opportunity to achieve a better work-life balance as a real plus.

The fact that firms already ‘allow’ flexible working on a case-by-case basis in response to employees’ individual circumstances or role means it clearly is realistic to roll-out flexible working for a proportion of the workforce, according to the needs of the business and the workforce.

It’s also important to consider that flexible working isn’t restricted to just enabling people to work from home. Rather, it’s about having greater working flexibility, control and efficiency.  From a commercial perspective, using cloud-based meeting and collaboration tools business-wide to create a secure and reliable ‘work anywhere, with anyone’ is also far more cost-effective, as it will maximise the business value of the technology and contribute towards more substantial cost reductions.

4. What are the psychological implications of BYOD? Does it change the psychological contract between employer and employee?

In many ways, this too boils down to the issue of trust. The latest YouGov survey commissioned by Citrix showed that concerns about staff being distracted by using their own phones for personal purposes during working hours have acted as a deterrent to BYOD flexibility.

However, organisations that have overcome these trust and technology issues are seeing the tangible benefits of operating a more flexible workforce with half (50%) achieving measurable productivity gains of up to 30% and a further 14% achieving even more.

Rather than having a negative psychological impact, this would suggest that employees in firms with a proactive BYOD policy are using technology and mobility to work smarter and use their time more effectively.

5. People say that work-life balance is ‘improved’ with flexible working, but doesn’t something that blurs the boundaries between work and pleasure create a worse work-life balance? Wouldn’t it be better to make the separation more pronounced but give employees the tools to be more efficient in their time at work, and more efficient in their time at home?

There is an argument that the increased ability to check emails from home or on holiday blurs the boundaries, but that becomes a question of personal choice. Flexible working ideals will differ depending on each employee’s individual needs. For example, some may opt to work earlier or later than usual business hours in order to take children to and from school, or those who simply can’t make it into the office for whatever reason can still maintain ‘business as usual’ and ensure that customer service does not suffer.

The overall point is that in order to remain as productive as possible, businesses should accommodate and be able to provide a more balanced strategy and agile work environment to suits the needs of their employees. This agility means a business can attract and retain the best staff. Any workforce is extremely diverse and a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be applied. But of course, as with any widespread change, invariably this will differ from business to business.

6. How do we overcome the inherent security issues associated with BYOD? Is there potential worth in the polar opposite, whereby employers provide the devices employees need and employees effectively ‘rent’ them for home use?

Businesses that have not put the necessary BYOD security measures in place are right to be anxious about potential exposure, especially when it comes to remote network access and document downloads, for example.

However, to overcome this, they don’t need to ban the use of personal devices and rent out business ones, which would potentially answer the billing question but not address the security issues. A more effective way to prevent employees putting the business and themselves at risk is to use secure file sharing tools, or implement software which automatically deletes business information from employees’ personal device if they are lost or stolen.

7. Trust between managers and employees is obviously most discussed when it comes to flexible working but what about between colleagues? Having colleagues that consistently work from home can cause resentment among employees who ‘make the effort’ to always come into the office and socialise.

In our experience, firms that have a flexible working policy don’t tend to report that this is a problem, especially where flexible working has become common practice business-wide. If it were to become an issue, having an open forum where employees can discuss concerns could help. Social collaboration tools can also offer a more informal means of working collaboratively to achieve a common business goal. 

8. Where will we be with flexible working in ten years? A universal given, or a useful tool that’s rolled out when necessary? With the increasing emphasis placed on workplace design, it seems there’s a move towards bringing employees back into the office.

In the last decade, international working and greater competition in the market have been major catalysts in compelling organisations to facilitate flexible and collaborative working practices.

At the same time, converging forces including the consumerisation of technology, economic changes and shifting employee expectations have continued to have a big effect on working practices. In many countries, regulation is also forcing the employer’s hand in providing greater flexibility, as legislators look to improve employee working conditions in such areas as parental rights.

By 2015, the analyst IDC predicts that more than one third of the world’s workforce will be mobile and working away from the office to some degree. PriceWaterhouseCoopers has said: “the workplace of 2025 will be wherever you want it.”

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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