Flexible workers face the challenge of staying productive outside a formal office environment. So how do they keep focused in order to remain a core part of a finely-oiled machine?
Many companies offer flexible work arrangements, including flexi-time, telecommuting and job sharing, enabling employees to manage their own schedules, work from home, and have a better work/life balance.
One such company is Microsoft – unlike most office environments, there are no set hours there, apart from what the employee works out with their team and direct manager. Microsoft Ireland’s IW business group lead Jeremy Showalter outlines the work experience for the company’s employees.
“Many have a flexible schedule due to children, family situations or other commitments. Microsoft has various technologies that cater for their staff, enabling them to work from anywhere. Microsoft has phones that connect to emails all the time, and that also connect to share point sites. Workers have access to documents on their phones.
“People are in and out constantly, so teams must establish minimum expectation time together; it could be one or two meetings a week, or one day together in the office, or it could be more days in the office depending on the type of work.
“Development teams who are writing software in conjunction with other teams generally have regular team meetings and software reviews, which means they do not have as much flexi-time,” he says.
“The more effective a worker is in the environment they want to be in, the more productive they’ll be in the longer term. Employees have much more of control of work and life. Management teams and leadership must be very clear on the minimum expectations, allowing them to be flexible for the work and for employees.”
Microsoft Office 2010, which was released last spring, is aimed at providing better flexibility and allowing a better productivity experience across the PC, the phone and the browser.
The company will later this year launch Office 365 – a cloud service that is based on Office 2010 platform – to provide an even better flexibility experience for workers worldwide.
Fiona Dowling works for the press office in O2 from home every Monday. “As a result of working at home, the commute to the office is cut out, reducing over two hours of travel in the day, which increases productivity,” she explains.
Working in an open plan office at O2, which is designed for communication, also means more interruptions and not getting as much done as she would at home, she continues. So on Monday, she focuses on documents and more strategic planning, and then as the week progresses, she would get more media calls so it’s easier to be in the office.
Dowling acknowledges that one of the disadvantages of being at home is the lack of physical company. “It’s a quiet day when working at home,” she says. “I look forward to coming into the buzz of the office on Tuesday.”
O2 offers lots of technology solutions that are tailored towards the needs of customers in terms of flexible working, including the O2 broadband and O2 Wi-Fi hotspot, which is a small mouse-like device that gives automatic Wi-Fi access to an O2 customer on the go.
Staying connected is a fundamental aspect of Dowling’s job. “I check my emails in the evenings and at weekends,” she says. “I am in the press office so its part and parcel of my job to always be connected.”
“Having constant access to the internet means that I can manage my emails in my own time, and not be stressed coming into the office on Monday morning to a trench of them. I value having continual access as it keeps me at the forefront of the job. I know at least 10 people in the marketing division that are doing the same thing – it is generally the people with children and also staff who have a long commute.”
Meanwhile, in May 2010, work space solutions provider Regus, which serves 500,000 clients worldwide in 1,000 locations, reported it had witnessed an 82pc increase in the uptake of its Businessworld flexible working programme, a trend it predicts will continue to rise over the next 10 years.
Regus has more than 1,000 Irish customers and four offices in Ireland. It says that cardholders increased 82pc from 170,000 to 320,000 as companies and individuals realised its potential to solve mobility problems.
“The scheme took off in the recession because it can cut costs by 60–70pc when compared to traditional office costs, yet enhance flexibility and effectiveness while working on the move or in a non-office location,” explains Michael Barth, regional manager for Regus Europe.