How businesses can make the most of flexible working

From decreased costs to employee wellbeing, technology has enabled greater flexibility in work and businesses are reaping the rewards

The ability to work in any location that’s appropriate, from the office base to client premises to your own home, cafés, the beach and any other place that feels like the right place, has always been possible. But advances in technology make it easier to do more from a wider range of locations: If you’ve got a laptop and an internet connection, you’re all set.

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This is a kind of mantra, but how do organisations really manage flexible working, what role does technology play, and what’s the mix between financial gains and supporting the wellbeing of the workforce? IT Pro asked a range of organisations these questions, and came up with some very compelling answers. 

Size is not a factor

While flexible working is sometimes seen as a luxury afforded only to those working in large companies that can afford to support it, the truth is businesses of all sizes can do it successfully. Indeed, IT Pro spoke to large and small organisations about their use of flexible working, and their size was not a factor in their choice.

Vestd, a regulated share scheme & equity management platform for SMBs employs just 14 full time staff. It doesn’t have a fixed office, instead the entire team works remotely, with occasional meetups in co-working hubs in London or Brighton. At the other end of the spectrum, Poly (formerly Plantronics/Polycom), employs around 7,500 staff across the globe. Paul Clark, Senior Vice President and EMEA Managing Director tells IT Pro: “At any given time, people may be collaborating from a home office or an office site, based on the task at hand.”

Technology smooths the path

Technology not only makes flexible working easier, it can also deliver entirely new ways of working as a team. For Vestd, technology allows them to operate without an office base, but they still need to get together as a team and for this video calling is vital. Co-founder and CEO Ifty Nasir tells IT Pro: “Every morning we have a daily video call, with the whole team present.” 

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It doesn’t need a great deal of imagination to see how technologies can change the ways in which we collaborate. Paul Clark expanded on how this is achieved at Poly, saying: “Meetings are no longer about talking, but sharing documents, screens and working on ideas as a team. Once on a call, participants want to be able to collaborate, be able to view and annotate the same files together in real-time, rather than waiting for an email to arrive with files to edit locally.”

The bottom line

The financial savings from flexible working can be very significant, too, and benefit both clients and the business itself. Edinburgh-based Prospect Community Housing manages around 1,000 homes and has 33 staff (a mix of full and part time). Director Brendan Fowler tells IT Pro that since going live with a bespoke housing management solution that caters for flexible working, staff costs are down £30,000 a year and more staff can spend more time in the community with tenants.

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Vestd’s Nasir adds: “In a business like Vestd’s, an office would commonly be the largest cost after salaries.

“[Remote working] means that our fees can be dropped to a more competitive level. Companies that don’t work remotely may soon struggle to compete against those that do.”

Still, at a time when there is a growing feeling that we should be moving away from a five day working week towards four days a week, and there’s increased support for flexible hours across a whole range of sectors, the benefits of flexible working are for many organisations about more than headline financial savings.

Wellbeing matters

Personal wellbeing is increasingly recognised as being both good for the individual and good for businesses. Paul Clark from Poly says: “Work shouldn’t stop if you are away from your desk or outside the office building. This eventually allows for a better work-life balance and the much-needed time to relax anyone would take to trade off driving during rush hour or sitting on a train.”

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Ifty Nasir puts it succinctly: “Avoiding the drudgery of a daily commute is very good for the soul, not to mention the back pocket.” He adds that he believes his employees save around £6,000 a year on average as a result – without even including any potential childcare costs.

Planning and buying agency MediaCom finds productivity and wellbeing benefits go hand in hand. Elaine Bremner, Chief HR and Talent Officer explains: “The key reason we offer our employees flexibility is to give them a working experience that allows them to also focus on travel, family and health and passions outside of work. This is important in creating an inclusive working culture and by giving people the ability to have ownership over their hours it increases their productivity when they are in work. By making your workforce as comfortable as possible in their work, you get the best results out of them.”

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With increasing pressures on public transport systems, a growing awareness of the need to reduce car use, and an ever rising understanding of the health and wellbeing benefits of flexible working, in a way it’s surprising that there are any organisations that are not using technology to support it. Certainly those that have taken the plunge seem to find multiple benefits

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