Kevin Young: Against home working? You’re holding back the tide

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Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Meg Whitman says it will take five years to steady the ship at the troubled tech firm. But if the Silicon Valley giant continues to take backward steps – such as its recent decision to discourage employees from working from home – it will take considerably longer to get its ducks in a row than Whitman anticipates.

In today’s connected society, dismissing the option for staff to work remotely is like trying to hold back the tide. The explosion of online, social and mobile technologies has resulted in a 24/7 worldwide workplace; remote training is now rife in many businesses, with 86 per cent of what our elearners pick up being put to use within six weeks. Flexible working, meanwhile, is considered a basic right by many.

And it’s not just staff who expect flexible working to take place: customers enjoy it and organisations want it, as they see efficiencies and effectiveness soar. Not only does it help to foster a friendly working environment and drive a more positive attitude from staff, but it can also increase employee productivity and retention.

As technology develops and the idea of HP’s rows of people sat in offices working rigidly between the hours of 9am and 5pm becomes increasingly dated, flexible working options are only going to increase. As this shift takes place, organisations need to adjust the goalposts to make sure that the way they measure success evolves alongside it.

Measuring the amount of time people spend at their desks, and whether or not they work from the office, is a cloudy lens to view employee output through. In order for the likes of HP to succeed, they must be sure to place an emphasis on the quality of work that is being produced. They need to take where it was created – in the office, from the sofa or on the train – completely out of the equation, because that part really does not matter. The end product is the part that customers pay their money for, not the processes which led to their construction.

It would be perfectly reasonable for organisations to have concerns about the sustainability of working in this way, but so long as the situation is managed in the right way, they have nothing to worry about. Seeing logos plastered over walls, mouse mats and pens in the office will keep the organisation they work for firmly in the front of an employee’s mind; working from their own home, will they soon forget that they are part of a much bigger picture and have corporate responsibilities?

In order to make flexible working policies succeed, organisations need to remember that communication is key to their success – the moment a business splits into silos, it will weaken significantly. Regular telephone meetings are crucial in maintaining visibility of employee actions from day to day; phone calls can also be used for group sessions, sharing challenges and coming up with ideas as part of a team. Establishing and maintaining lines of communication is a crucial process in any kind of organisation.

Other electronic resources also need to be used to the business’ advantage. For instance, elearning can be an extremely effective way to ensure staff have easy access to the latest training and resources, regardless of their location or working patterns.

With virtual working leading to more geographically dispersed employees, sending half the workforce across the country to attend a training course no longer makes business sense. As a result we can only expect the use of collaborative technology in training to increase over time.

Many businesses instinctively think that human-to-human contact is a vital cog in the learning machine. This is true to a certain extent, but as a result of technology a lot of this can be replicated ‘virtually’, using video links, virtual role plays, augmented reality and simulations.

A shift is taking place in how people discover, read and share information and insights. This shift incorporates the use of social networks and social media tools for corporate collaboration, enabling employees to share and discuss ideas and knowledge, as well as the use of virtual classroom and web collaboration tools.

Forward-thinking businesses are already embracing these techniques, and the expectation is that the use of such techniques will become commonplace in the near to mid-term.

By Kevin Young, general manager, Skillsoft EMEA

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