There’s more to flexible working than bunking off on Fridays

flexible work 300x176 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysFlexible working is an approach to business that works through employee engagement to achieve shared goals that work for the organisation and its workers.

However, flexible working can be slightly misleading. It is used mostly to account for timing of work and suggests the idea of going in late or ‘working from home’ on a Friday. The term encompasses more than that: it is also about where and how you work and how your work is measured. For this reason, I actually prefer the term ‘agile working’ which is broader in scope.

That said, the flexible working legislation that was updated in June is undoubtedly helpful in promoting the idea of looking afresh at how we work.

Working nine to five

Dolly Parton made the nine to five seem like a good thing, but that model began in the industrial age and has not moved on. Today we are looking for something better.

We are looking for more flexibility, certainly, but a truly new way of working stems from engagement. We want to be creative, share ideas, have an input, have a choice and balance work with other important aspects of our lives – particularly family.

And we want to be measured on results. As Dave Coplin at Microsoft says, ‘we tend to measure productivity and process, rather than outcome’. Sitting at your desk and looking busy for eight hours a day does not make an effective employee. Ensuring your workers are fully engaged and working in a way that suits them will not only completely fail to compromise your business, as many employers fear, it will actually improve productivity, well-being and staff retention.

Losing the nine to five means losing control

Flexible working does not lead to anarchy. For a start, it doesn’t suit many people. Sure, most may benefit from shifting the working day an hour or two forward or back occasionally, but a lot of people like the regularity of an imposed place and time of work – it helps with discipline and focus and to delineate work from home.

office designs 19 150x150 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysAnd if the alternative to the office is home, then this does not suit everyone, all the time. It can be lonely and isolating working from home. Other problems include discipline and distractions – children, your partner, daytime TV, the chocolate you know is in the fridge, etc.

So, not everyone is going to go AWOL at the same time. However, with a percentage of your staff working different hours, extending your business day, this could be extremely useful. What if you could deliver customer service for longer than the normal eight hours? If you have staff happy to work at different times you could find you have an advantage over your competition dealing with customers out of hours and responding more quickly to their needs. If your competitors are already doing this, however, then you are the one who is behind.

Bear in mind also that it does not mean people are never in the office. There will be a need to have regular catch ups and meetings, face to face. It may also make holiday cover easier. KashFlow have talked about the idea of the ‘workation’. This is when people go away but stay working and is mainly beneficial to the self-employed, but there is merit in anyone staying in touch. Not for the whole holiday or indeed for every holiday, but just in a light-touch way. Or perhaps some could take more paid holiday, but be ‘on call’ and keep up with the basics. With the ‘millennials’ (or Generation Y) influencing the workplace in years to come, their ‘always connected’ approach to life could work well in situations where having staff out around holiday time can compromise a business.

Future In Glass 150x150 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysAlso, with the technology available these days, not having all staff in all the time does not have to be a problem: the wide choice of online video options, Voice over IP telephones, mobile devices with increasingly sophisticated video apps, email, sms, not to mention a host of off-the-shelf and bespoke integrated software systems make sure of that and you may not need such a big office.

Other benefits

Happy, engaged, cared-for workers are not just more productive, they also stay longer and take less sick time. Improved staff retention can save organisations a lot of time and money and create a more stable business. Plus, when you are recruiting, these policies attract better quality staff.

There may be savings in real estate and associated costs, because less staff are in the office at once and need less space. There is also a positive impact on commuting. If you are bearing any travelling costs for you or your staff, these will be reduced. Even if not, some of your staff will be grateful for a chance to reduce their costs (in some circumstances, could this even replace all or part of a pay rise?). This, in turn, helps with congestion which benefits the local community and economy as a whole.

So flexible working isn’t a perk, or a fad or even enough in itself: flexible working is part of something bigger, an approach to business strategy and staff engagement that could make a significant difference to your business.

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Marketing professional in exchange for free office

I am looking for a marketing professional to help with a new project for 3 months. While I cannot offer a salary for this work, I can offer a free office for the duration.

The Colston Office Centre are looking to extend their business support programme in order to make a real difference to solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants and micro business owners. We want the small business sector to grow and we are looking to put a wide range of services that will help: marketing opportunities, referral networks, sound advice and guidance, training and more.

We believe this is an important area of the economy that is not getting enough support. And we know, because we are such a business. The government has put a lot of store in start ups, which is admirable, but less in helping small businesses in the service sector to grow.

In order to assess interest in the community and prepare products and services that meet the needs of small business owners, we need someone to help do the groundwork: research, idea development, social media activity, building relationships with potential collaborators and helping to shape the website that will deliver these services.

In exchange, we can offer a free, dedicated office for the initial 3-moth project. After that, depending on the success of the project, we can look at how we might work together going forward. We think the work will take around one and a half days per week.

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When it comes to flexibility, nothing beats a serviced office

Wherever you work best, however you want to work, your local business centre will have the answer.

Flexible office

Whether you need it for just yourself, a whole team or part of a team, a serviced office can work with your business; adapting, growing, contracting just as and when you need it. Notice periods are short and the centre will always help to accommodate your needs as they change.

And there’s no commitment to tie you down. Sign up monthly to stay agile or if things are more settled sign for a year and negotiate a discount.

The other beauty of serviced is that everything is set up for you and included in the price: broadband, telephony, utilities, rates, maintenance, cleaning, furniture – you have nothing to organise or fret about other than building your business.

Going virtual

You can still have the office, it just doesn’t have to be physical: a mailing address, telephone answering, meeting rooms, etc: a professional business set-up at a fraction of the cost. If you don’t want to give out a home address, if you want a personal answer to phone calls that you can’t take, if you want all the facilities of an office without the cost, then virtual is the answer.

In fact you can tie your cloud office solution in with this also and integrate VOIP phones and mobiles and, with a cloud office solution and hosted email, have a completely agile office that enables you to work anywhere on any device at any time.

Dropping in

Touching down, hot-desking, proworking, coworking; there are many names for it but essentially in many centres you can hire a desk for the day and sometimes even by the hour. If you are in town for the day or the morning, if you need to get out of the house for a while, if you need to work with someone on a project then this option could be for you.

You pay only for what you use, ad-hoc or on a regular basis, with a desk and wifi, tea and coffee on hand and some like-minded professionals to talk to and network with. One company helping businesses to work like this all over the country is NearDesk. Among founder Tom Ball’s ambitions are to avoid the ‘insanity of the commute’ and get more people ‘working nearer to home’. Sound thinking for today’s workforce.

Make the most of your stay

Whatever service you are using, there are plenty of other facilities to take advantage of. Meeting rooms can be a great way to see clients, suppliers and prospects in a professional environment; use the onsite copier, fax-to-email and admin, postal and telephone services, if you need to work on the go. There are also likely to be seminars, training and networking events available to learn and mix with like-minded people.

So, whatever your sutation there is nothing more flexible than a serviced office.

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Future City: Bristol – Working for Change

Working for change is not about a change to your business, it is about preparing your business for constant change by making it flexible, adaptable and agile.

Working for Change is a programme that embraces the future of work and the future of business, recognising that the future is already here, especially in terms of constantly developing technology. Businesses that adopt a future mindset understand that the future is always with us and that planning for that future keeps them ahead of the curve.

The programme is a series of events, knowledge-share, guidance and training. The feature event will be a major conference next year.

Who is behind the programme?

Working for Change is lead by the Colston Office Centre in collaboration with a host of experts, mostly from the Bristol community, but also engaging with thought leaders from further afield.

It is aimed at local businesses that see the changes around them and observe their competitors development but are unsure of what to do or how far to take it.

Why should you change?

The benefits are clear. Businesses who adopt more flexible working practices find increases in staff happiness, productivity, performance and retention. On the bottom line, organisations see reduced costs in real estate, recruitment and staff welfare.

Additionally, agile organisations work better, harnessing disruptive talent and ideas to keep one step ahead of their competition and building sustainability into their business. And it is not like any of us have a choice:  our environment will change so it is only a question of whether we change or get left behind.

On a macro level, we are working to help the Bristol community build resilience and thrive.

The programme

By disseminating knowledge and best practice; by pointing to invaluable resources and sharing what local organisations are doing to push these issues forward, we will help you build agility into your business.

Advice – guidance, best practice, resources form thought leaders in their field

Debate – LinkedIn group, blogs and articles based on the latest thinking and horizon scanning

Events – surgeries, seminars and annual conference

Training – specialist training in all aspects of future working: business agility, leadership and strategy, employee engagement, change management, technology integration, managing dispersed teams, etc.

Services – Agile Office (your office in the cloud), coworking space in the city centre, energy audits to evaluate and implement cost and resource usage reductions

Timetable

To help get the conversation going now, to contribute and learn, join our LinkedIn Group here.

For events, see our news page here. This will be updated constantly as more events are organised. The training programmes are still in development and we will publish these as soon as we have details.

There will be a conference in spring/summer 2015 and we will have more information on this soon.

To stay abreast of the programme, sign up to our newsletter here.

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Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

It’s an amazing digital world that we live in; a world where we can talk to and see anyone, anywhere, through touch screens from four inches to four metres, control machines with thought and operate driverless cars. Tolkien himself could not have imagined such a world.

We are all connected, accessing loads of different stuff on millions of different devices. Some of us are working better, being more mobile, more flexible and more efficient and with more choice about how, when and where we work.

But, as Gandalf might say ‘Is it secret? Is it safe?’

In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo had indeed kept the ring of power both secret and safe. But in the real world, are we keeping the power held in our data secret and safe? In terms of mobile devices, there is ample evidence that we are not.

A recent report from Ovum and Samsung commented on by Insight (I would love to link you to the full report but Samsung do not tell me how) on the Future of Work reveals that ‘around a third of all BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) activity is invisible to the IT department’ and ‘nearly two thirds are not working to any formal IT policy’.

Another report, referenced by Fierce CIO, reveals that 15% of employees (from a survey of 500) felt no responsibility towards security of mobile devices, with 10% not having any form of log-in mechanism in place. Employees also access confidential information on public wireless connections (43%) with many installing six or more third-party applications (45%).

BYOD Policy

Many businesses worry about cloud security, thinking that their data is vulnerable on huge great servers that, actually, would cost the operators far too much money to allow them to go wrong (more on that here). No, the real danger is much closer to home and business owners, IT departments and employees are not always giving these security issues the diligence they deserve.

Every employee with a mobile device and who conducts work on that device should be part of a planned policy that provides best practice. This would include any data stored on the device, how it connects to the internet, protecting the device through log-on protocols and the data through encryption and looking at and approving, if necessary, any apps downloaded. This is true of company devices but especially true of BYOD devices.

The risks are not just about lost or stolen data, but also about viruses and sabotage, data protection issues and credibility with clients and prospects as well as potential legal action. The world is moving forward and there are opportunities to work in ways that better suit businesses and employees and provide far greater freedom and choice. This, in turn, however, brings its own problems and business owners would be well advised to take greater lengths to keep their data secret and safe.

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Q: Who will lose out if we don’t adopt agile working practices?

A: Women, older workers, everyone else…and your business.

The industrial age was about production: a linear model from raw materials, through manufacture or service creation to the customer. For the worker, the focus here is on time present at work with little in terms of motivation or engagement to create a better product or more of it. It is location specific, repetitive and timed.

This model has become obsolete over the last fifty or so years by our move away from manufacturing and the increase of knowledge work, the advancement of technology and changing attitudes to work. For many businesses though, the model is still the default which is bad news for us all, but affects some more than others.

Women at work

Women started working in large numbers during the two world wars, since when we have grown into a society where women often need to work more because fewer families can survive on one income. Yet many women want to work and stretch themselves, but the world of work is still stacked against them: unequal pay, glass ceilings, childcare issues, etc, as a recent Observer article discusses. Agile working can help women in work by offering more flexibility about when and where they work, adopting and adapting technology to support them and introducing sensible part-time options.

Agile working also offers a template for measuring workers by output rather than time spent, which is a valuable tool in creating a more level playing field where wages and conditions are concerned. Businesses need to take advantage of the knowledge and skills offered by women to enhance their competitiveness and benefit the economy as a whole and this is not going to happen unless we move away from a long-expired working model.

Older workers

The story is similar with older workers and this is particularly pertinent to me because, as of next week, I will be in the bracket described by the DWP as older workers, i.e. 50-69. A sobering thought.

Again, the industrial age model is not helpful. It was often about physical work, for which there is a limited life-span. Our current economy, however, relies a great deal on knowledge work, not physical labour, which extends the value of an individual. Combine this with the demographics of an older population, longevity and a projected future shortfall in employees compared to the number of jobs needed and we would be fools to ignore the older worker. That’s me, by the way, in case you forgot!

Older workers bring many advantages, like confidence, maturity, knowledge and experience. They need less training and supervision and, hey, we still have ideas you know. And they can help bring the young guns up to scratch.

Everyone else

It stands to reason that much of what is being described above is true for all employees. We all want more engagement, choice and control over how we work. It may just be about flexible hours, to help with family commitments, but it could be about working where you are most productive or changing environments depending on the task. Technology can help with this, of course, but so can the attitude of employers. Once we are measuring success on the work done rather than the time spent doing it or the place in which it was done, we create a whole new model of working which benefits from the freedom offered.

Your business

I have talked much about the benefits of this approach, but it is worth reiterating. Agile working, according to the Agile Future Forum, offers adaptability so that businesses can better match resources to demand, greater productivity and quality of output as well as attracting and retaining better quality staff.

Add to this potential savings in real estate costs, commuting costs and stress, as well as a positive impact on congestion and the environment, and there is a strong business case for adopting agile working practices. As is evident, it is not just women and the older workers that lose out from our attachment to outdated working practices.

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Why should education be different?

Flexible working is not just about technology businesses, the service sector and the self-employed. What about teaching?

Do we need teachers in a classroom, forcing pupils to go to school, parents to have to drive them and the postcode lottery? Could some pupils learn online? Could some education be done remotely – with module elements, webinars and interactive video lectures?

It is certainly a possibility for higher education. According to the Daily Telegraph, a recent study reveals that a third of university students do not believe  £9k a year for an average 14 hrs formal teaching a week represents value for money. It is hard not to agree. Obviously a university campus provides other facilities, but is it all necessary? I am doing an OU course at home currently and, while it will take six years to complete the degree at my current pace, if I wasn’t working I could probably do it in a year. I am finding distance learning pretty straightforward and there is as much interactivity as I need, if I need.

So, are the universities pricing themselves out of existence? Well, cost isn’t the only issue. Nathan Harden believes that technology will do the same to higher education as it has done to publishing, music, etc. This will mean students have the power as consumers, to choose any university in the world, study virtually and choose ever more bespoke learning that ties in with their specific needs and aspirations.

It doesn’t help that degrees themselves are becoming devalued by their ubiquity. So much so, that a Masters or PHD is the new degree. However, if students can benefit from easy access to worldwide lectures and courses and tailor their learning and engage continuously to remain relevant to their career then the value of that learning is increased, not devalued.

Harvard is experimenting with online courses, but cannot agree on how much to offer, concerned as some are that by offering the full course online, they degrade the exclusive college experience. However, students may take this decision away from them, just as consumers did in the music industry. Music listeners don’t always want the whole album, sometimes they just want a couple of songs. They also want choice over when, where and how they listen. Why should education be different?

This is not to dismiss the value of face-to-face interaction, especially in early years, but I think we can expect some serious changes to the way we learn over the coming years.

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Why are you waiting to get connected?

Last Tuesday saw the first of a series of events by Bristol Council to promote the £4.8m of funding it has available for small businesses to upgrade to fibre optic broadband.

Stephen Hilton and Joe Dignan outlined the vouchers they are hoping to use to help as many businesses as possible upgrade to superfast broadband. In a nutshell, as part of Bristol’s status as Super-Connected City, most small businesses with up to 250 staff and £40m turnover and based in the city of Bristol will qualify. It is for install only and not monthly costs, but there were several suppliers present to reassure businesses that the costs were reasonable. Each organisation can claim between £250 and £3,000 and the scheme finishes next April.

Just in case you are wondering, there is no catch – this is a grant, not a loan and you will find more information at Connecting Bristol. Even if you qualify and overcome your cynicism, however, you may still wonder why you should bother.

I have no idea what service you have now, but we have noticed a significant improvement since moving to fibre (which I did before I knew about this scheme, but I am told there may be a possibility to retro-claim). Speed is better and our clients have no restrictions. We could also create dedicated bandwidth for clients, within their own VPN, if they so desire. This is not relevant to everyone, but may be useful for some.

The main benefit of the speed is to get your business working faster, more efficiently and giving you more flexibility. Streaming and data transfer are quicker and easier for a start. Many organisations are moving to cloud and VOIP phone systems are becoming more popular. Both require a little more bandwidth and might be adversely affected by more limiting services.

Additionally, this capability makes remote working easier – whether you are using intranet, cloud services, VOIP phones at home, video links, high-speed broadband is far more efficient. Your staff can integrate with your data and systems wherever they are, whenever they need and on any device. The ability to manage a dispersed team could, in turn, save you money on office, utility and transport costs.

However, the benefits are not just for your business. The more organisations that sign up, the more infrastructure gets built up, not just by BT but by other suppliers as well, which benefits the community and will give more businesses (and even residents) the chance to upgrade, even after the voucher scheme ends. My building is right in the centre of Bristol and we don’t even have Fibre to the Cabinet. So the more sign up, the better served everyone will be.

So, what are you waiting for? Go to the Connecting Bristol website and upgrade your broadband now.

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Why aren’t we more disruptive?

A t Open Coffee this week the conversation took its usual twists and turns; from online geographic games and their educational potential, through looking at ways to measure mental ability from jack of all trades to polymath, all the way to issues around political correctness. We like a challenge at OC!

Anyway, one of our number took it upon themselves to raise the idea of disruption, which has been something of a recurring theme of late. Disruption innovation is capable of changing markets and value networks – think email, plastic and desktop publishing. This led to asking why we are not more disruptive. Why do we accept our lives so willingly, its rhythm and routine, the social norms that we all too rarely question, when we do not work collectively for any single goal?

Obviously, this led, in turn, to looking at the contrast with termites and ants, who work together tirelessly for a communal objective, i.e. survival of the colony. On the face of it the human race has no such overarching strategy – we appear very much look after ourselves. We are far more individual, at least close up, and self-aware than our insect friends, and yet we follow expected patterns of behaviour without a thought. We do not question, or believe we would not be able to change things even if we did.

So, we scrabbled around for an idea to explain this collective behaviour and came up with this: if we were all disruptive, there would be chaos. Though, as a race, we do not consciously work together toward an unspoken objective, perhaps our subconscious behaviour is rooted in maintaining order. Society is a very complex construct and needs understanding and acceptance of the ‘rules’ to be stable. The order achieved by most of the populace provides a stable environment against which the few disrupters – innovators, criminals, activists – can operate (the criminals perhaps are a necessary by-product). The innovation they create takes us forward, but at a pace whereby the innovation can be assimilated and do most good. (We are not sociologists or philosophers, so if anyone can corroborate or counter these random thoughts and enlighten us, please feel free so to do).

So, a few can innovate – Newton, Einstein, Jesus – while we provide the right environment to support progress. But what if we can use these innovations to change our environment? Technological innovation has given us the internet and innovative thinking has presented different ways to use it. Could we do away with imposed social order and create our own?

The Guardian featured an article, this weekend, by David Runciman, who was talking about this very thing. People are so much more interested in technology than politics – it is far more exciting – but he argues that, ultimately, technology could never replace the machinery of state – after all Google cannot fight a war or maintain infrastructure, even though it can make a driverless car. He acknowledges that technology has led to ad-hoc instances of political campaigns, but this is not a realistic alternative to our political system.

However, I can see ways in which technology could give us control over certain aspects of the state. We can all see an increase in the number of community groups, charities and social businesses that are working in the spaces that government doesn’t do so well, like the big beach clean-up at Portishead and the redevelopment of Headley Park and Playground. A lot of these are using social media and the latest web technology to reach the widest audience (See Neighbourly for more).

Teaching is a profession that could be done virtually, at least in theory (assuming one parent at home all the time), but would we still need the state to control the curriculum. Could we choose what we taught our children, would parents be sufficiently knowledgeable to know what their children were good at, what work was needed in the community that their personality and interests would be good for? Would we do any worse than the current education system?

Could we do away with parliament and ministers? Could anyone suggest a law or change that could then be electronically voted on by the populace? Could planning applications be done the same way? If a certain level of acceptance or positive votes is reached, approval is assumed.

Is the role social media played in the Aran Spring important? Are there other instances where citizens can effect change in their countries? Collectively, could we boycott or oppose certain products, companies, state bodies, laws in sufficient numbers to change minds? The aim might be to force organisations to change to protect the environment, civil liberties or stop greed or discrimination.

Several years back. Lorries were blocking the motorways, people were protesting and there were queues of desperate motorists at petrol stations where petrol was running out fast. This was because petrol had hit £1 per litre. Crude is cheaper than it was then and now petrol is around £1.30, so why are we not protesting now? Nobody wants chaos, but maybe, although technology cannot replace the state, it can help us find ways to define and express our collective voice and be just a little more disruptive.

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Two years of your life wasted in traffic jams

Why sit in traffic when you could be working, taking the kids to school, chatting to a colleague via video or a dozen other things that would make better use of your time? Commuting does not count as time at work but neither is it leisure time. So, why do we put up with it?

According to Inrix, in 2013, the UK was behind Belgium and the Netherlands only, in terms of congestion, with a score of 16.1, which means an estimated 29.6 wasted hours in congestion traffic per month. This represents around 4% of the total hours available to us each month and, in an average working life of say 50 years, equates to around two years sat in the car going nowhere.

At a more local level, Tom Tom reported last year that Bristol is the second most congested city (behind only Belfast) with journey times 66% longer in the evening peak period than during the day. And Bristol Cycling Campaign chairman Martin Tweddell, in the Bristol Evening Post, estimates that congestion costs the city around £500m per annum.

Despite various ideas put forward to help with congestion, Bristol is not a great place to drive into, out of or around. I have mentioned before that the Council’s strategy seems to be to make driving such a retched and expensive experience that we change our habits and use public transport, park and ride, bicycle or Shanks’s pony instead. Needless to say this does not appear to be working. However, one answer is to focus less on how we travel to work and more on whether we need to travel to work each day.

This is part of the focus of agile working. It is a simple approach to engaging with employees to find out when, where and how they want to work. It can lead to more homeworking, greater use of coworking spaces, especially on the periphery of cities, and use of third places like cafes, hotels, libraries, etc. It thus can reduce real estate and associated costs and the length and frequency of car journeys.

Employers who have adopted agile working principals have seen not only this reduction in office costs, but also greater productivity from staff (for more on this see our ‘Future of Work White Paper’). Yet, these are not the only benefits, there is the wider environmental issue: reduced journeys and journey times mean reduced carbon footprint, reduced use of limited resources and reduced congestion. Not only do businesses and employees benefit but so does the wider community.

This agility, combined with sustainability for businesses and natural resources, is what Paul Allsopp refers to as ‘sustainagility’ and is something we believe Bristol should be talking more about.

With Bristol elected Green Capital 2015 and a member of the 100 Resilient Cities, this is the perfect time to engage stakeholders in workplace change that can transform business, the community and the local economy.

After all, who wants to waste two years of their life?

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