Give people flexibility, or lose them. It’s that simple.
Our Workplace 2025 white paper has uncovered that over half of C-suite executives expect their business to have a different form in five years’ time.
This is exciting news – but what does a ‘different form’ actually mean?
It refers to the fact that the workplace of the future will be boundary-less. It will be agile and fluid in engagement with other organisations and in the use of skills. There will be very few restrictions on where, how and when work is done.
In other words, it will be flexible.
As far as I see it, this flexibility will be necessary for keeping the employees of the future satisfied, engaged and able to continue to contribute past traditional retirement age.
In the US and the UK, more than half of the workforce will be working in a freelance capacity by 2025.
This means if you want to attract the best talent to work for your organization – for any amount of time, and have them productive immediately – you will need to build a flexible workplace.
In this blog post I’m going to explain why employees need flexibility at work – and I’m going to suggest how you can achieve it for your organization.
A new concept of work
We’ll have to start seeing work as something that people do rather than a place they go.
In the past we built our understanding of work on factories and assembly lines, where people came and fit themselves into the system to do their job. You would turn up and do what you were told in the way you were told at specific times.
Now we need to understand work in the context of the employee. What does that person need to do to get their job done? What works best for them?
New technology is enabling us to design the system around the people so we create the most effective workplace for each individual.
If someone prefers to work from home when they have a big project and need quiet, for example, how do you allow them to do this? If that improves their productivity then ultimately it will benefit everyone.
And as our white paper reveals, research has shown that people can only be creative for six hours a day anyway – so the standard nine-to-five is no longer valuable. This is what flexibility is all about, and it will become crucial as the global competition for skills intensifies.
If you don’t make it easy for people to work effectively or make allowances for their work-life balance, they will simply find somewhere else that does.
Examine your processes to build flexibility and security
There’s obviously a risk involved with allowing people to sign in from multiple different devices and locations. So how do you develop flexibility without increasing security risks alongside it?
The answer is layering levels of security.
A single sign-on with multi-factor authentication, perhaps including biometrics, should be the first layer.
The layer beyond this should look at what data is visible within the application ensuring that data within the application is only visible to the people who need it.
Employee behaviour analysis is also a useful way of maintaining security while encouraging flexible working. What do we expect our employees to be doing and are they following their usual patterns?
Take me as an example: I usually work from home or from an office in the south of England. So if my user account pops up in Japan the system should alert because this is outside my normal behaviour.
It might then ask me for a further level of authentication to ensure it really is me trying to sign in from Japan.
But above all of the layers of security are the processes. The main obstacle to security is employee negligence rather than aggressive cyber-attacks.
If you make it difficult for people to do what they need to do as part of their job they will find a way around it. If there’s not an effective file sharing system, for example, your employees might turn to a third-party app and potentially put your company at risk.
Again it boils down to my earlier point about user-centricity: you have to build a workplace around the employee and their needs if you want true flexibility.
Productivity will matter more than the number of hours spent at work
My final point is that we need to collaborate with HR a lot more in future. Building a flexible workplace cannot come from IT alone.
There are some questions only the HR function will be able to answer: restructuring the recognition structure, for example. Traditionally we’ve operated on a ‘clock in, clock out’ system that has meant people are paid based on the number of hours they spend behind their desk.
But with a flexible workplace we will have to move towards rewarding output rather than hours in the office as remote workers technically don’t spend any time in the office at all.
Only 17% of organizations already do this, according to our recent workplace survey. Clearly this is something we have to change, and we can’t do it without HR.
Flexibility is simple
Ultimately, flexibility is a simple choice because it’s the right one.
A flexible workplace will attract talent, which will become increasingly scarce in future.
To compete with other organisations for this talent, you will have to offer the best work-life balance possible, whilst ensuring the productivity and satisfaction of your employees.
Changing attitudes towards work – what it is, and how it is measured – will also steer us towards building greater flexibility into our workplace.
And if you don’t start making flexible changes today, you’ll be in serious danger of being left behind.
So give people flexibility now – it really is that simple.
Take a look at our white paper for more information about flexibility in the future workplace.