What is flexible working?

Flexible working is all the rage, but what is it - and can anyone do it?

Essential tools for flexible working

If you want to work from home, embark on a job-sharing arrangement or change your working hours so you're online when your overseas counterparts are, there is a wealth of technology out there that can help.

Here, we run through our top five pieces of tech for efficient and flexible working. Feel free to add your own additions to this list in the comments box below.

1) Online collaboration and productivity tools

Essential for: Home workers, distributed teams, and job sharers. 

The boom in online collaboration and business productivity tools, from Google Apps to Office 365 and services like DropBox, has made it easier than ever for teams to work on presentations, spreadsheets and reports even when they're spread across different locations.

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For people in job sharing roles, such as shift workers or part-time staff, these tools allow them to pick up on a task where their colleagues may have left off, while shared calendar functions allow them to keep track of who is doing what when the other person isn't there.    

2) Telepresence tools

Essential for: Home workers, distributed teams and firms with overseas customers

If your working arrangements make it impossible for you to be in the same room as your colleagues or clients at a given time, video conferencing tools provide a viable alternative, and steadily becoming a more regular feature in meeting rooms across the UK.

Although, to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and on-time, it's worth testing the equipment in advance and that everyone invited to the meeting knows exactly what software they need to use and have it installed on their machines. Otherwise, the first 30 minutes of your meeting will turn into a glorified tech support session.

3) Instant messengers

Essential for: Home workers and distributed teams

While email maybe the first choice for some, instant messaging tools - such as those offered by Skype - allow for faster, less formal communications, and snappier responses to work-related queries. It is also possible to share URLs, documents and pictures with many of the tools available today, taking some of the strain off of your inbox.

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Instant messager tools can also give senior management-types a steer on what kind of hours their workers are putting in while offsite, or make other employees aware that they do not want to be disturbed or are offline at certain times, meaning they're unlikely to be disturbed if they don't want to be.

Furthermore, with many instant messanging apps available on mobile devices, it makes it easier for workers to stay in touch with the office while out and about.

4) A secure home PC

Essential for: Home workers

Gone are the days when employees used to boast of having better IT in the workplace than they do at home, thanks to ever-tightening IT budgets.

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The chances are, unless your workplace dictates that company tasks can only be carried out on a work PC, you're going to be using your home PC or laptop for work purposes. This means ensuring its anti-virus software is up-to-date, and that any company data accessed on it is tightly secured and accessed via a VPN connection. 

5) A robust broadband connection

Essential for: Everyone

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As the old adage states, "you're only as strong as your weakest link," and almost all of the technology we've listed already is highly reliant on having a consistent and fast broadband connection. Without it, the vast majority of the work all of us have to do these days would grind to a halt. So, it's something well worth investing in if you're someone who plans to work from home a lot or a business that wants to take better advantage of all the technologies listed above. 

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