The advantages of flexible working
MCF Technology Solutions, a software company in Cleveland, Ohio, shuttered its offices for the last time about a year ago. Nothing exceptional about that in such tough times, you might think. Except that MCF is still a thriving business – it’s just switched from physical to virtual offices.
MCF and thousands of companies around the world are taking advantage of technologies like Unified Communications, videoconferencing, cloud storage and mobile solutions to untether their people, so that they can work at home or on the road, from anywhere. And it’s not limited to startups, either – even huge corporations like AmEx are taking the plunge.
Less time wasted = More work accomplished = Happier people who want to stay
It’s easy to see the appeal of flexworking for employees in terms of reduced commuting time, better work/life balance and so on. And employers cut the overhead associated with all that office space. But studies show that there are real business benefits too. AmEx, which equips its people to work virtually via the company’s ‘BlueWork’ program, estimates it has not only saved up to $15m a year in real estate costs, but has also increased worker productivity. What’s more, companies employing people in major cities like London or Paris have to compensate them for the higher costs of living in those cities. If these same employees were to work from more remote, rural locations, companies could make savings without cutting employee standards of living.
Of course, not all workers can be freed from the office, and not everyone can work at home all the time. Many people simply prefer the physical and social interaction that comes from meeting colleagues face to face, and companies must take this into account when offering flexible work options.
AmEx has found that when employees are helped to find a work style that best meets their needs, they tend to drive results. And Insurance giant Aetna, another advocate of flexible working, has learned that employees given the opportunity to work from home end up staying with the company longer – making it a valuable retention tool.
There’s also the intangible buzz around a company that takes its inspiration from the liberating benefits of technology rather than rooting itself in a culture that is beginning to feel distinctly 20th century. It can help make your business a place where people want to work, making it easier to recruit the best talent. And because you’re no longer recruiting within a radius of an hour or so from your base, your pool of talent now spans the globe.
Let’s do it. Steps on the road to a virtual office
You’re convinced of the advantages of flexible working. But how can you make the shift work for your business? First, you have to make a cultural shift. Build your corporate culture around flexible working. Don’t insist on a 9am meeting in the boardroom every Monday – send your people a videoconference invitation instead. Management should lead by example, and communicate both the benefits and the technologies behind the initiative
Allow time for the culture to spread, and offer online employee training on being a home-based worker. And, perhaps most critically of all, be as flexible as you’re expecting your people to become. Regular research can provide insights, both positive and negative, that can inform changes on both sides – and keep the whole process both productive and effective.
Invest in the future and reap the rewards
Like any fundamental shift in your business, flexible and remote working takes time to get used to – and there has to be give and take on both sides in order to reach a true, sustainable equilibrium. But the possibilities – including effective collaboration between teams spread across the globe – make it a worthwhile move for forward-thinking businesses everywhere.