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The future of flexible work is here to stay, how can organisations respond?

by jcp

By: Herbert Lörch, Regional Vice President, Western Europe

The forced and immediate shift to remote working which happened almost overnight in March 2020 will be without doubt, one of the most significant and long-lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Any belief that this was to be a short-term necessity has over time, proven to be illusionary.  Governments not just here in the UK but across the world, have responded to waves of the pandemic by opening, closing and reopening economies in repeated fashion. Even now with a large percentage of the UK population vaccinated, a large proportion of UK employees are still expected to work from home in what is now being termed a ‘hybrid model’.

Some of the best-known names in the UK have already announced plans for introducing more hybrid models of working.  These include insurance giant Aviva, with 16,000 employees, and accountancy firms BDA and KPMG both reporting a move to more flexible, hybrid working methods.  Investment firm JP Morgan and the recruiter Michael Page allowed workers back in the office in late March, but none have reopened at full capacity.  In the case of WPP the BBC has reported that it has reopened its UK offices at 30% capacity, and that figure is expected to rise to 50% as the summer progresses.

As a result of this move to a new way of working, demand for office space is also declining and businesses are choosing to restructure the very way they work by focusing on their estates. Capita has closed 49 out of 294 of its offices since the start of the pandemic while one of the Big Four, Deloitte has closed offices at Gatwick, Liverpool, Nottingham and Southampton.

Permanent remote working is now being considered by both employers and employees who would not have even considered this back in 2019. The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report, published in October 2020, states that 44 per cent of workers can conduct their work remotely, so this is a very real dynamic taking place now.

Further, here in the UK, in a September 2020 poll of more than 2,000 office workers conducted by the British Council for Offices, found that nearly half of respondents said that they intended to work from home some of the time going well into 2021, and this was at a time when another national lockdown was viewed as a mere fantasy.

These are seismic changes – office space reductions combined with new flexible ways of working and employee expectation that this is the ‘new normal’ – are leading to firms having to re-evaluate not just where they work, but how they work.

Central to this is a desire to ensure that this shift towards flexible working does not negatively impact productivity, collaboration or company culture. There is a body of research that has shown that people can be as productive, if not more so, when working from home. But for employers there is the very real issue. The practical and operational advantages of an entire workforce working from home could be diminished.

If organisations are going to prepare for the new normal of flexible work environments, the solution is to develop a well-formed, intelligent information management strategy — one that promotes a collaborative and productive working environment while adhering to governance, compliance and security protocols.

So, what can companies do now to prepare a strategy for the new normal of remote work? What should they be putting focus on in developing that strategy? Below are a few key considerations:

Information Access and Workflow Automation

Most businesses live and breathe documents, files, and information; it’s the lifeblood of a streamlined, productive and efficient organisation. Arguably, the most important tenet of a flexible work strategy is that knowledge workers should be able to access and manage information from any device and any physical location, no matter where that information is stored — in a CRM, ERP, shared drives, network folders.

Not only should staff be able to access information, but the same processes and workflows that govern their work should be in place in a flexible work environment.

Avoiding Shadow IT

Shadow IT is where individuals incorporate technology solutions on their own, apart from the prying eyes of the IT department. For example, one individual may decide they’re going to use Dropbox for cloud storage, while others decide on Google Drive and yet others are using Box. This creates two types of sprawl — content sprawl and SaaS sprawl — both despised by IT departments, not just for the inconvenience, but for the risk it poses to established governance and security protocols. An umbrella strategy should account for a unified document management system.

Information Security

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and rogue endpoint applications can put information security at risk. Many companies are using an array of technology to help allay those risks — company-sanctioned hardware, VPN connections, and a secure enterprise information management platform.

The result of this shift to flexible working is that employers now need to be thinking now about how they are going to respond to employee expectations of new working patterns.

Government guidance which requires people to work remotely will not be around forever. As so many employees have indicated a preference for remote working at least part of the time going forward, employers need to consider carefully how best to remain an employer of choice and stay competitive.

The solution is an intelligent information management platform and the key principles that underpin a solid flexible work strategy are already there. All you have to do to work remotely is grab your laptop and go.

All the information, files and documents they need are a couple clicks away, from any device. It’s this concept of anytime, anywhere access to company information — with a built-in information security framework — that truly sets the stage for remote working, giving staffers the same experience as they would at the office.

And by doing that, companies can ensure continuity, productivity, and efficiency of their remote workforce.

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