Not too long ago flexi-working had a science fiction feel to it. The idea of doing your whole job away from your desk or even in a different country seemed laughable. The office was where work happened and that is all there was to it. These days it is different—flexi-working is a reality for swathes of the population.

Huge leaps in technology has made adopting the trend simpler than ever and, with 51 percent of British workers finding the office unproductive, businesses are looking towards flexi-working to improve both staff morale and productivity. This type of working is here to stay.

There is an issue with this though. In the rush to retain and attract staff by being at the forefront of the new way to work, many companies are not paying appropriate attention to what is required to provide a healthy, thriving flexi-working culture. If not managed correctly, flexi-working can impact employees negatively, making them feel unwanted and having the opposite intended outcome.

The lay of the land

Some people believe that adopting flexi-working is as simple as walking into a company meeting and declaring “everyone is now an anywhere worker.” This could not be further from the truth.

Think of it this way: would you trust someone to drive a train without ever having stepped foot in the vehicle? How would you feel about an individual performing surgery if they had never been to medical school? With this in mind, why would any business leaders assume that implementing a flexi-working culture is as simple as saying it?

The honest truth is that while some people find adopting flexi-working habits as easy as picking up a pencil, others will struggle to work efficiently within this framework. It is a manager’s responsibility to support and enable individuals to grow and thrive in such an environment. In this instance, the first thing that requires attention is the culture. It is inadvisable to just begin offering full flexible working, which would mean a change to contracts and working hours; instead it should be brought in slowly. People should be encouraged to work away from the office in short bursts, letting them acclimatise to the change in their workdays and then rolling out the full programme.

Training also requires attention. If you deliver the appropriate framework for people to operate in, they will perform far better. Advice on time management, best practices and optimum locations to work should all be included in any courses. These should be conducted over the course of several months and employees contributions should be encouraged. This will allow people to share knowledge, solve problems and ensure their voices are heard, making staff feel in control and appreciated.

Team meetings should also become an integral part of a working week. The regularity of these can change depending on the business, but it is vital that your team feel connected to one another and still part of a business, even if they are not there in person. It helps lend people a sense of structure and keeps everyone working towards the right goal.

The software strategy

Software is the foundation of flexi-working. Developing culture is vital in making sure people have the confidence to thrive in a remote environment, but it is the software that allows them to do so. This means the decision cannot be a rash or rushed. Consider this: you might be able to draw a picture wearing boxing gloves, but it is not going to result in a piece of fine art. This is the same with using bad software.

The first thing you need to look at when choosing the tools for your company is collaboration. For example, with people not in talking distance, something as simple as editing a document can quickly become cumbersome. If just two individuals are reviewing a Word document simultaneously, when they send it to the author, some of the changes could be contradictory or, at the very least, require a serious amount of time to collate into a single piece of work. All this can be solved by the ability for multiple people to work on a document at once.

Future-proofing should also be a priority. Issues like how often the software is updated, how it works on other operating systems and its mobile apps all make a huge difference to how the platform works in the long term. The most important aspect of all this though is your staff. Before making any purchasing decision the employees should trial different platforms and help to decide which one works best for them. They are going to the ones using the technology day-in, day-out, so they must be certain that it is the right fit for them.

Harnessing hardware

After you have sorted the company’s culture and selected the right software, there is an often forgotten element that needs your attention: the hardware. If you were running an office-based company, would you ask your employees to bring in their own computers? So why would you expect this to be different when implementing a flexi-working culture?

Aside from computers, mobile devices should also be given out or subsidised by a company. Many already do this, but when moving to a remote working culture, the mobile becomes an even more important tool. It ensures people can communicate easily, are able to work while travelling and even provide an internet connection if there are no available Wi-Fi networks.

The next piece of advice is slightly more left-field, but regularly overlooked, much to the negative impact it can have on employees: furniture. When working in an office it’s taken for granted that the chairs will be of high-quality and designed for long periods of sitting. This is not the same in a home environment. Many will have furniture that is not fit for healthy long term use. This is where the business comes in. Depending on your approach, you could either purchase, subsidise or, at the very least, offer advice on the best pieces to buy. A poor posture in the office can have terrible impacts on people’s health for the rest of lives, something that should be avoided at all costs.

Considering culture

There is also one final piece of the jigsaw though and that is the role of upper management. A wholesale change has to start from the top of a company and needs to be personified by those leading the organisation. This can be done in a variety of ways, but one example is being constantly in touch with the team, keeping them updated with your work. This sets the expectations of others in the company.

Another important thing a leader should do in this situation is share their difficulties and, importantly, how they overcame them. When implementing a flexible working culture, it is vital to lead by example. Remember, never expect employees to do something you would not do personally.

While leading from the front, it is of the utmost importance to realise one thing: different people have different reactions to flexi-working. For example, a 2015 Ernst &Young survey found that one in six millennials (compared to the average, which was 1 in 10) were likely to have “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule.” While a flexi-working culture benefits the majority of employees, there are always going to be people who struggle to adapt. This should not be seen as a negative, as the best businesses are made by embracing people who think differently. The company and its executive team need to ensure that these individuals are given extra attention, have their issues faced and are managed through their difficulties. If this is done, then they can realise the benefits of flexi-working.

The benefits that changing a company’s culture can bring are immeasurable. Individuals are happier, more productive and deliver a better quality of work when they feel they are employed on their standards. Still, achieving this balance is not as simple as just saying you now do it. To reap its benefits requires dedication, focus and hard work. If the above steps are followed though, you can accelerate your company’s journey into the future. This will ensure the organisation remains an appealing place to work and, in turn, attracting the best and brightest to the business.

Sally Barringer is the HR Manager at Unify, a position held for over eleven years during which time Sally has supported all functions of Unify’s business including Ireland. Sally has been actively engaged in overseeing the company’s transition from Siemen’s Enterprise Communications to its current incarnation, providing guidance and support through HR practices ensuring the workforce remain at the heart of the business throughout this period of change.

Her responsibilities range from recruitment and succession planning, employee engagement through
reward, recognition and HR Policies to change management and business transformation. Sally currently splits her time between Milton Keynes and London, providing HR consultation and improving employee relations across all sectors of Unify’s business.