Home Business NewsBusiness The biggest barriers to flexible working & how we can overcome them

The biggest barriers to flexible working & how we can overcome them

by LLB Editor
21st Mar 16 7:00 am

From trust issues to security concerns


This article is brought to you in partnership with Microsoft

From typewriters to computers, telegrams to emails, landlines to mobile phones – the advent of technology has changed our lives dramatically in the last 20 years.

That’s is why the prediction that – terms like “9 to 5” and “Office” will become obsolete in the next 20 years – comes as no surprise. 

Yes, you read that right.

A study by recruiters Office Angels found that a quarter of Brits think that the office will no longer exist by 2036. While almost two thirds (65%) of employees believe that working hours will become flexible, over half (53%) predict that standard working hours will become outdated altogether.

In the next 20 years, millions of workers will work from remote locations using tech tools likemobile devices, cloud services and video conferencing to do their jobs.

That’s probably why many employers and employees have already adopted flexible working. Be it boosting productivity, cutting recruitment costs or responding better to customer needs, flexible working is fast transforming the world of work.

Not to mention the major economic boost the UK will get if more organisations embraced flexible working. A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr)revealed that a “work from anywhere” culture could add an extra £11.5bn per year to the UK.

Despite all these benefits, there are flexible working barriers that both employers and employees are facing in organisations. What are they and how can they be overcome? Take a look:

1. Barrier: Not giving employees an option to work flexibly

Solution: Believe it or not, the majority (55%) of British office workersare still required by employers to work from the office within designated working hours. This is despite the government passing legislation stating that all UK workers have the right to request flexible working.

According to a study by Microsoft, more than two in five (44%) surveyed British workers are not allowed to work remotely under any circumstances.

This is despite a Cebr study proving that British employees could save a whopping £3.8bn and 533 million hours a year in commuting time if they adopted flexible working.

Then why the obsession with the physical presence in an office when only 1 in 10 (11%) respondents say they have had their best work-related idea in the office?

Now more than ever, business leaders need to get over the notion that work can only happen in the office. Employers need to embrace flexible working to give employees the right kind of environment to be productive anytime, anywhere.

Take footwear company Vivobarefoot for example.The business sells shoes online and boasts a store in London’s shopping mecca Covent Garden. Upgrading their office infrastructure helped the company have a connected business, anywhere.

They used Office 365’s tools and applications to not only collaborate with their team from different locations but also to work with manufacturers, wholesale and distributor partners around the world. Read more about their flexible working journey here.


2. Barrier: Not having the right technology

Solution: The true benefits of flexible working can only be reaped by having the right technology. Investing in the right technology doesn’t have to be costly, especially with cloud based subscription models from Microsoft. Most small businesses who take the time to choose the right IT see big benefits that outweigh investments.

From tending to customer needs to collaborating with colleagues, the right flexible working technologies directly contribute to the success and performance of an employee and the business.

Niki Daly,co-founder, Gnot and Helmies Beauty, reckons the right technology is a wise investment for all small businesses.

She said: “I am truly empowered in every way, using the latest technology to connect and grow my business, whilst still managing the complexity of home and work life. Making investment decisions is hard for any business but this is one I recommend wholeheartedly. I have cutting edge tools that will always stay current and grow with my business – wherever that may lead. You can’t put a price on that!”

Tools that make flexible working effective include Microsoft Office 365 which helps users work on the go without productivity being compromised.

Be it multiple team members working on a document simultaneously with OneDrive for Business or attending business meetings remotely with Skype for Business, Microsoft Office 365 has handy tools to make remote working easy. Click here to find out more.

> Read: Here are 9 infallible tech tools that make flexible working more efficient


3. Barrier: Trust issues

Solution:To make flexible working work, you need to trust employees.

The true benefits of flexible working can only be achieved when you set out goals for your employees and trust them to achieve it.

According to a study commissioned by Microsoft to explore attitudes of 1,500 full-time or part-time employees in office-based roles in 15 European countries, only 52% of respondents said they fully trust their colleagues to work productively away from the office.

This is a big challenge holding organisations back, according to Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin.

He said: “If you’ve set goals
for your employees, you need to trust them to achieve it. When that trust exists, the employee feels free to make an informed decision about when and where he/she will be most productive.

“If trust doesn’t exist, you end up in a really horrible place of presentism. This drives people to over-communicate and over-compensate for not being in the office. The flexible workers start getting up really early in the morning and send everyone in the team a bunch of emails to prove that even though they aren’t in the office, they’re still working. This gets in the way of the real benefits of flexible working.”


4. Barrier: Attitudes towards flexible working

Solution:The other hurdle that organisations face while adopting flexible working is resentment among colleagues.

According to research by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), almost a third (31%) of managers have heard colleagues make derogatory remarks about flexible workers, while almost half (48%) say that allowing some people to work flexibly causes resentment within teams.

Also, 15% say they have personally felt resentment towards colleagues working flexibly.

Coplin reckons a change in attitudes towards flexible working will overcome this barrier.

He said: “In a world where flexible working isn’t a strategic objective, everyone perceives they have a different package.”

“Flexible working is really about giving your employees the power to choose how they do their work in the most productive manner.”

“Clear communication, transparency and establishing clear policies will help change negative attitudes towards flexible working.”


5. Barrier: Security concerns

Solution: Flexible working is all about the freedom to work productively from anytime, anywhere. However, this brings security issues with it. What if you lose your phone or your tablet gets stolen?

According to research by Microsoft, 61% of employees mix personal and work tasks on their device. This means your sensitive business data is mobile. With the right technology, you can be confident your sensitive business data is safe with your remote workers wherever they are, whatever the circumstances.

With Office 365 employees can regularly back-up data and access documents on multiple devices. They can also use Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) to make sure any devices and data are protected against threats.

Click here to watch a video about how business owners Bob and Jim use Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite  to protect their mobile small business.


6. Barrier: Keeping on top of customer service

Solution:Two in five (41%) British workers are worried that flexible working could cause problems with customer service, research by the ILM has highlighted.

This is a myth that might hold back employers from adopting flexible working.

There are reams of research that prove that flexible working actually helps in providing better customer service.

In the Microsoft and London Loves Business e-guide, “BUSINESS ANYWHERE – The ultimate guide to flexible working” Coplin pointed out that flexible working helps you spend more time with your customers, partners or colleagues.

He wrote: “Many of us find it easier to say “Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, I’m going to be sitting in my office”. But actually, with the right culture and tools, why can’t we work from our customers’ premises or anywhere? We should be more connected to our customers and interact with them – flexible working can make that happen.”

How Skype helped Tiers of Happiness keep on top of customer service

Reading-based bakery Tiers of Happiness has used Skype to tend to customers abroad.

Here’s what founder of the business Ilona Deakin had to say:

“I was recently commissioned by a customer in the USA who was getting married in the UK. Without Skype for Business we would have had no way to meet and discuss her wedding cake dreams before the big day and through the wonders of video conferencing I could even show her how the cake was progressing so she felt involved and connected throughout the whole process!”


7. Barrier: Could choosing to work flexibly affect work-life balance?

Solution:The perception that flexible working disrupts work-life balance is ludicrous.

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 50% of employees feel that flexible working helps them achieve a better work–life balance.

Coplin thinks that in order to make flexible working successful, employers need to stop treating flexible working like it’s an “employee perk”.

“Flexible working should not be something that an individual invokes with the HR department because they’ve got issues like childcare, for example,” he said.

“Flexible working is a strategic operational opportunity for an organisation. It increases productivity of its employees and gives them a much better way of controlling their lives.

“This shift in the culture and perception of remote workers in an organisation will help employers and employees make the most of flexible working.”


What now?

Now you know how to overcome these barriers, get your cheat sheet on all things cloud and mobile. Enable your business to work flexibility to get more done without working more hours and spending a lot more money. Cloud and mobile technologies can help everyone work better, on their own and with the team, wherever they work. Everyone wins when they work smarter, not harder.

Get the free eBook here.

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