Are businesses retrenching when it comes to allowing employees to work from home or on the move? That’s the question now being asked following the news(1) that IBM, a pioneer of the concept, is now requiring some of its staff to co-locate in one of six satellite US cities or find another job. Similarly, Yahoo! demanded staff return to office working last year.
But delve a little deeper and you’ll see the reason behind the decision is that people perform better when they are nearer to their colleagues and able to collaborate. People DO work better when they can bounce ideas off of one another, share insights, and pool their knowledge. But the notion that this means you must physically be in an office environment is misguided.
Think of all the hours wasted commuting, how exhausted and demotivated staff can become if there are delays on their commute, the number of hours spent idling at their desk clock-watching. Now contrast that with being self-motivated and driven to succeed because you have ownership over your workload.
There are plenty of people turning up to work in the office everyday but if you measure how productive they are you could be in for a surprise.
9-5 or the daily skive?
The eight hour working day is a remnant from the industrial revolution and in no way fits the way we work today, which typically involves bursts of concentration. Research (2) suggests the average worker is only productive for two hours and 58 minutes a day in this structured type of environment. The rest of the 8 hours is spent reading websites and social media, chatting about non work-related activity, snacking, calling friends and family and even searching for new jobs.
So if being in the workplace 9-5 isn’t the answer and neither is remote working what’s the solution? How do we provide employees with the optimum conditions to make them productive? For example, some people are more productive at certain times of day but equally we have to consider whether that person’s role requires them to be physically present, at least for some of the time. First or second line support staff may well need to be in the office, for instance, while creatives and fixed task staff can be given more of a free rein.
Yet even senior staff members can benefit from more flexible arrangements. According to reports, 73 percent of senior staff felt that less than half the time they spent in meetings was productive (3). Imagine if they could utilise that wasted time by multi-tasking on a call or if we could get to a point where less meetings were held because issues had been solved via other communication channels such as group chat.
Consider also that many employees are legally entitled to work flexibly. Over three years ago the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees with six months’ service. However, while many people openly say they would prefer to work flexibly, with 54 percent of UK workers expressing a desire to do so, only 34 percent have been encouraged to, according to survey results(4) largely due to real or perceived stigma.
It’s important to remember that work is an activity and not a location. People can work effectively from a variety of places thanks to the connectivity of the Internet but what hinders both their productivity and career development is their access to co-workers. What we don’t want is silos of employees who are working in isolation.
Thankfully there is a solution. Collaborative applications are now being steadily adopted which are transforming the way people work. And I’m not just talking about instant messenger or chat here. There’s…
- Microsoft Teams, which includes chat, calls, meetings and integrated Office 365 apps. Yammer, an enterprise social network, for sharing, requesting and polling fellow employees, which is ideal for projects based dialogue with group access.
- Skype for Business, soon to be incorporated into Teams, which provides a platform that facilitates team meetings enhanced by video, screen sharing, and the ability to share from multiple applications, and comment via messenger to other members thereby avoiding interrupting the flow of conversation
- Skype Meetings for hybrid working. How many of us have been in a meeting where one or two people can’t make it, throwing out the agenda? If the team does physically meet, they can again share with members who aren’t in the office
- Anywhere365, an enterprise dialogue system rather than just a call centre application, that enables agents to work remotely and communicate over multiple channels internally and externally
Adoption of applications
Contrary to the actions of Yahoo! and IBM, research suggests adoption of collaborative solutions is on the rise. In the 2018 State of IT report (5) on budgets and trends, the researchers found that the top cloud-based workloads now and over the course of the coming year, were communication and collaboration, backup and Disaster Recovery, and productivity applications… in that order. Clearly, despite the scaremongering, we’re not about to see the remote working decline anytime soon.
In my opinion, retrenching and bringing staff into the fold is a mistake. It’s a move back to hierarchical management structures and the 9-5. They’ve given up on the promise of collaborative working before it’s even got started.
Take Skype for Business. This application can now function as a PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange) when combined with Anywhere365, a contact centre application developed on Microsoft ‘s API framework). This allows the business to scale its contact centre without the need for a physical site with agents working remotely. This can be further complemented by Bot services, developed using the Microsoft BOT framework, which automate a number of functions.
- Inbound chat, skill based routing
- Answer FAQs and inbound chat automatically
- Outbound calling and texting
Bot technologies can be applied to a number of services e.g.
- Marketing: when a customer opens a text it’s possible to instantly join them to a person on a call
- Finance: chasing debtors becomes automated and if they make contact they can again be linked instantly to the right person
- Customer service: track where a delivery is from via the CRM Bot which, coupled with chat, can search by delivery ID and show the customer where their delivery or product is in the supply chain
This is an exciting time when we could see modern working practices adjusted to suit workflow rather than us all doggedly trudging into an office to observe the daily grind. Such collaborative applications are only just beginning to be adopted and will enable remote workers to work more productively and be more engaged.
Give your employees the right tools and your trust and you might even gain from knock-on benefits like improved staff retention. A recent survey (6) found 80-90 percent of workers wish they could work remotely at least some of the time and 53 percent of UK workers would sooner work flexibly than take a 5 percent salary increase (7). Give the workers what they want and you will benefit from loyalty and productivity.
To find out more about how collaborative applications and how Microsoft Teams can help you and your staff work better, contact us today.
1. ‘One of the biggest perks of the modern workplace is disappearing’, Business Insider, November 2017, http://uk.businessinsider.com/why-working-from-home-perks-may-disappear-...
2. 'Survey reveals employee productivity averages 2 hours and 53 minutes a day’, Vouchercloud, September 2017 https://www.vouchercloud.com/blog/office-worker-productivity/
3. ‘Just 36 percent of business meetings help people do their job better’, Talk Business, July 2015, http://www.talk-business.co.uk/2015/07/02/just-36-of-business-meetings-h...
4. ‘Employers missing a trick when it comes to the benefits of flexible working’, HR Director, October 2016, https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/flexible-working/employers-missin...
5. ‘The 2018 State of IT’, Spiceworks, July 2017, https://www.spiceworks.com/marketing/state-of-it/report/
6. ‘Latest telecommuting statistics’, Global Workplace Analytics.com, June 2017, http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
7. ‘Employers missing a trick when it comes to the benefits of flexible working’, HR Director, October 2016, https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/flexible-working/employers-missin...