This article was originally published in Canadian HR Reporter (Subscription Required) download a PDF. Reproduced with permission.
Technology is the foundation of a successful flexible work program
More flexibility isn’t just a nice to have, it’s something people would actually be willing to pay for. One of the findings in our most recent research, Debunking the Millennial Myth – Evolving Perspectives on Canadian Talent, was that 46% of Canadians would take less pay for the opportunity to work somewhere that offers greater flexibility.
What’s more, we found that a desire for flexibility is not a millennial issue: flexible work appeals to working Canadians regardless of generation. If you’re still not convinced that this is a trend that is here to stay, consider that the Federal Government is exploring changes to the labour code that would require all federally regulated businesses to offer a process where by employees can request flexible work.
The nature of work is changing and the line between work-life and personal-life has blurred to the point of making work/life balance irrelevant. Instead of trying in vain to delineate between the two spheres of our lives, it’s becoming clear that a more appropriate goal is to integrate them. One of the best ways that an organization can support their employees in doing this is through the implementation of a well structured flexible work program.
At WORKshift, we define flexible work, or workshifting, as a management culture in which employees are empowered to work where and when they are most effective with a focus on results rather than presenteeism. There is no one-size-fits-all model for flexible work. In some organizations the focus is on internal mobility, in others it’s some form of remote work, be that including fully remote employees or just the freedom for employees to work outside of the traditional office when needed.
Whichever model your organization adopts, there are three core pillars of a flexible work program: People (HR), Space (real estate and facilities) and Technology (IT).
The role of technology in flexible work
Of the three pillars, technology is arguably the most important. While the change management and policies associated with HR might be the most difficult to implement on a large scale, there are many small to medium sized businesses who have a fully flexible work model without formal policies based on a culture that has grown organically. On the other hand, even in a smaller organization, technology is crucial to enable flexibility.
Starting with laptops, then smartphones, and more recently the cloud and collaboration platforms like Slack, technology has been the driver behind the rise of flexible work with HR and physical spaces having to adapt to keep pace. Technology does this by enabling access to the people, data and applications that individuals need to get their work done.
Whether you’re looking to optimize an existing flexible work program or just getting started on your journey, here are some things you should keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right technology.
The right medium for the message
Believe it or not, email has been around for almost 50 years. As a 2015 study by Adobe highlighted, in that time it’s become an addiction. The study found that respondents spend an average of 6 hours per day checking email. This is despite the fact that email, really isn’t a very efficient collaboration tool.
Email isn’t going away anytime soon, but the adoption of a flexible work program provides a great opportunity to reassess the ways that your teams need to collaborate and identify the right mix of tools.
As high quality broadband connections become the norm, video can make a huge difference for remote participants in a meeting, whether they’re at home, on the road or just another office. The ability to see the room and the body language of those they’re speaking with can help people feel more connected. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products like Zoom, Webex, and GoToMeeting make video an affordable option and the addition of a TV and webcam can bring it into a boardroom.
For short, informal communication, text and instant messaging can be great ways to check-in with quick questions that save time in the long run.
Whatever the mediums you make available, it’s important for teams to discuss protocols around which to use when. For example at WORKshift, email is useful, but if something needs attention right away we’ll turn to a text or that old fashioned tech, a regular old voice call.
Not all forms of collaboration take place with all parties present
For work that takes place asynchronously, a collaboration platform like Slack or Podio can reduce back and forth by consolidating conversation and file sharing in a location that can be accessed from any device when it’s convenient. This is particularly useful if you’ve got people collaborating across time zones or when you have geographically distributed teams.
Another notable finding from our research was that over 50% of Canadians report they are at their most productive outside of traditional 9-5 work hours. If you’ve got a night owl working with an early bird on a project, a collaboration platform allows them to contribute when they’re at their most productive and pick up where the other left off.
Get in the cloud already!
A related topic is file sharing. How many times have you sat in a meeting and talked about whether someone was looking at the current version of a given document? With Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365, and file sharing tools like Sharefile and Dropbox, it’s easier than ever to move documents to the cloud. Not only does this allow files to be shared more easily, it permits co-editing of live documents which can save huge amounts of time.
It’s not just documents. An increasing number of enterprise applications can be run in the cloud, public or private, or purchased as SaaS products. Whether it’s tools for HR (Workday, BambooHR or Halogen), Finance (Freshbooks, Quickbooks Online, Xero) or arguably the best known of them all Salesforce.com it’s easier than ever to find a SaaS solution that can be accessed from anywhere. In addition, you get the added benefits of scalability and you’re always on the latest version.
In other cases virtual desktops like those from Citrix
Security matters, to a point
I can almost hear some of the more conservative among you starting to twitch about security concerns as you read this. “If our data and applications are in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere, doesn’t that make it less secure?” In short, not really.
It’s safe to say that the greatest security threat when data and applications are in the cloud is the same one you have today, your people.
It’s important to balance any security driven decisions against usability. If you provide tools that are so secure that they become a pain to use, the people won’t use them. Instead you run the risk of generating shadow IT where people use their personal email or Dropbox accounts to share files or work from home in the evening and you’ve lost all control of the data.
Yes, you should take the security of the products and services you choose into consideration when making a purchase decision, but remember if the CIA can’t guarantee security, neither can you.
Don’t be afraid
Technology is a necessary component of any flexible work program and adopting the necessary components isn’t as hard as it might seem. As consumers, most of us are already using the cloud and many of the necessary technologies on a daily basis.
HR professionals have an opportunity to reach out to their IT counterparts to talk about how technology can be used to build a great employee experience. One that enables one of your most important resources, your people, to be as productive as possible.
Technology is making it easier than ever to work when and where we’re most productive. Organizations that recognize this opportunity and adapt to the changing nature of work will benefit from increased productivity and the opportunity to attract the best talent.