Back in 2013, search engine giant Yahoo! banned its employees from remote working, prompting anger among many of its constituents. In a memo to staff, the company’s directors explained their reluctance to offer telecommuting. They said that speed and quality is sacrificed when working from home and “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.” The news spread like wildfire. Legendary Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson described the ban as a “backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
While it’s true that great ideas can originate from random encounters with colleagues, the very nature of collaboration has changed since the rise of the Internet. The opportunities to converse, share and participate are no longer confined to the four walls of a hallway or meeting room; they extend of the logical extremes of our planet.
Technology has of course been the enabler. We now have the means to connect with a colleague over voice or video at the click of a button. But its influence extends well beyond that. It has become the catalyst that empowers workers to demand more flexibility and latitude to do their jobs. Now, the long commute can be challenged and a better work/life balance arranged. Work is increasingly what we do, not somewhere we go and this shift in mindset has led many companies to ditch traditional office space for shared co-working environments.
The Case for Employee Autonomy
The two leading reasons why companies such as Yahoo! and IBM are against the idea of remote working is control and trust. The hands-off approach of remote working drastically reduces the ability for companies to monitor work and micromanage employees. This leads to unfounded suspicions that employees are wasting valuable company time and money by not working.
However, there are various studies that refute these managerial opinions. A few years ago, Telecommunications company O2 asked 3,000 of its employees to work remotely for a day. It found that employees saved 2,000 hours on commuting, more than 50 percent of which was spent working.
More recently, the UKCCF’s Home Agent Forum commissioned a survey of over 400 contact centre agents to assess the impact of homeworking on finances and productivity. It found that those working from home led an improved work-life balance, with the majority (73 per cent) completely eradicating travel-to-work costs.
Following the launch of the survey, the organisation’s CMO Michael Gray said: “More and more UK contact centres are turning to homeworking as they discover the huge financial and productivity benefits it can deliver. Seventy-four percent of contact centres that use homeworking believe that it enables them to schedule staff more flexibly to meet expected customer contact volumes. A further 69 percent said that it creates happier and more productive employees.”
It’s findings such as these that make the case for agile working irrefutable.
In July this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on UK productivity. According to official figures, the productivity of UK workers dropped back to pre-financial crisis levels. Hourly output fell 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017 – 0.4 per cent below the peak recorded at the end of 2007.
Of course, remote working is not the only answer to the UK’s labour output crisis. But as the O2 experiment discovered, workers are often far more productive at home or away from the office. They can avoid numb-minding meetings, noisy colleagues, countless disruptions and wasted time in traffic. Bypassing these irritations will almost always lead to a happier, more creative and engaged workforce. The only requirements for a remote working policy to succeed is a clear vision from management with reasonable expectations.
Technology as the facilitator
A fundamental part of the remote working vision is technology. At Jabra, we have fully adopted cloud-based applications from Unified Communications (UC) to Customer Relationship Management (CRM). We have removed all telephones and replaced them with softphones, intelligent headsets and other collaboration devices. These tools have created a completely new way of working for our global workforce; one that puts agility and flexibility at the heart of what we do.
The results to date have been fantastic. Our employees are producing more output in less time while benefiting from a better work/life balance. Our business operations benefit, too. Back in February 2014 when heavy rainfall flooded the River Thames, our entire UKI office was evacuated. The local IT equipment was switched off and staff were sent home. But work continued as normal. Employees were able to log on from remote locations via our Skype for Business application. It ensured that we did not miss a phone call, email, customer meeting, order or shipment.
Our customers frequently tell us their success stories with technologies that are enabling them to work in more collaborative, productive and innovative ways. Through UC-optimised headsets alone, overall call handling time is reduced by 33 percent. When making calls is the dominant work mode, tremendous return of investment can be made. But the beauty of UC is that it has broken down the barriers to effective, global communication. Today, these kinds of results can be achieved from anywhere: at home, while travelling, in airports or hotels.
It should be every business’ aim to help its employees to reach their full potential. This isn’t a perk, it’s an expectation. Unfortunately, the antiquated, old-school ways of thinking among many management teams is inhibiting this. As the business landscape maintains its relentless pursuit for ‘more for less’, organising our work is more important than ever before.
Reduced stress, improved wellbeing, fulfillment and engagement are all byproducts of remote working. And it’s only through the adoption of technology that freedom to work effectively on remote ground can be achieved. Employers will face a high-price in lost productivity by exercising strict control over a workforce. As managers and leaders, it’s our duty to offer our staff an environment that’s conducive to better worker engagement.
About Nigel Dunn
Nigel Dunn is Managing Director EMEA North at Jabra. He is a strong advocate of New Ways of Working initiatives, presenting this to channel partners, end-customers and in keynote speeches. Having worked in the area of enterprise collaboration and communication for many years, Nigel knows how technology and culture can support a company’s productivity, growth and profitability.