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How technology has impacted flexible working

The 2020s herald a new era of flexibility at work. New technology has made working practices and polices unrecognisable when comparing the beginning of the 2010s with the end.

While the term ‘flexible working’ has been around for years, it is only now that organisations are adopting policies which allow true flexibility. In the majority of cases, this has been enabled by technology developing to a point where there is no tangible difference between an employee being in an office and working remotely.

Technology has given companies the freedom to allow colleagues to work where they want, when they want. International Workplace Group’s Global Business Survey found that 70% of employees now work somewhere other than the office at least one day a week.

Some organisations initially feared that offering flexible working would harm productivity, however, evidence suggests the opposite. A survey of 8,000 employees and employers by Vodafone revealed that following the enactment of flexible working policies, 83% of respondents reported an improvement in productivity. Additionally, 61% said company profits increased and 58% believed the policy had a positive impact on the organisation’s reputation.

Not only does flexible working boost productivity and performance by enabling workers to complete tasks at their best performing times, it also increases trust between organisations and employees, which will improve work quality and help with retention.

New workplace practices enabled by technology

We’ve come a long way from flexibility being seen as employees being able to stay in contact with each other using walkie-talkie style mobile phones, or even pagers. The development of the internet and laptops in the 1990s led to the first green shoots of flexibility by enabling a basic form of remote working.

However, cloud technology, advances in workplace communications technology, and the development of connected mobile devices have been the precursors to the increased availability of flexible working practices.

Being able to share and collaborate on documents in real-time using cloud software has meant that colleagues can work on a project as effectively from different locations as they would in the workplace. Using the cloud has also removed the necessity for employees to be physically in a place of work to access documents from a local drive.

While email initially helped co-workers to stay in touch quickly, and conveniently, when working in different locations, more advanced instant messaging services have made it even easier to communicate. WhatsApp has become ubiquitous, while more advanced services which are ideal for sharing files of all types, such as Slack, are favoured by many businesses to ensure employees communicate effectively.

The development and power of modern mobile devices, whether laptops, tablets or smartphones, has removed the limitations previously placed on employees wanting to work remotely. While older devices could replicate some workplace tasks, there were many which the devices could not cater for. New devices, armed with new cloud and communications technology, can function as well as - or even better than - workplace hardware.

On top of existing mainstream technology, innovations like 5G, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality ­- or even mixed reality using Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 – will continue to break down the barriers which currently prevent some employees from working flexibly.

What HR professionals can do to maximise the benefits of flexibility

The expansion of flexible working has benefitted both employers and employees, but it has created additional challenges for HR professionals. The success of increased flexibility in organisations is dependent on the work HR departments put in to implementing it.

New technology is the foundation allowing employees to work flexibly. It is down to HR professionals to ensure that both managers and their employees understand how new tools will enable them to work collaboratively from different locations. This involves creating a supportive environment with clear communication.

While it is technology which has kick-started the flexible working revolution, it is the HR team who must ensure that businesses have the right strategy in place to take advantage of the opportunities provided by this new style of working.

Seeking talented HR professionals who can implement successful flexible working practices? Or looking for your next career steering flexible working? Contact your local Reed HR branch.

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