A 5-minute guide to becoming a flexible employer

By Robert Rutherford

The decision by Yahoo! to categorically ban remote working appeared to many in the industry to be a vain attempted to swim against the tide. Flexible working is more popular than ever amongst both employers and employees. The benefits of the remote working approach are real, and proven, but as the Yahoo! example aptly demonstrated, flexible working isn’t for every business.

If you’re a small business looking to embrace flexible working, there’s a two stage process that you’ll need to work through. Firstly, you’ll need to conduct a thorough check of whether it is the right move for your business, and secondly you’ll need to construct a rigorous step by step plan to put it in place effectively and safely.

Here’s a 3 step guide to checking whether flexible working is right for your company:

1) Identify what the company is hoping to achieve in areas like communications, operations and workflows, as well as the minimum IT requirements that will be needed to support this model – it will be important to map the technology to suit the business, not the other way around.

2) Review the relationship and interactional factors. Of course, if your employees need to meet with clients and prospects on a daily basis then home working wont fit, but what about creativity and the flow of information. If there’s an atmosphere which feeds creativity or constantly cross-educates the workforce with up-to-the-minute information, you need to assess what effect the loss or reduction of that will have.

3) Understand what technology is going to be needed and how much it’s going to cost. A big part of what makes flexible working possible is the level of technology that allows employees to be audibly and visibly in the office whenever it is required. To achieve this set up can be expensive, and will often require a powerful and secure cloud service. If the technology isn’t in place already then setting up remote working will mean taking a short term financial hit in the hope of long term gains.

If these three stages don’t throw up any roadblocks, the next step is three vital checks to ensure that flexible working doesn’t end up harming the business:

1) Test it. There are very few systems that can’t be trialled with little or no investment. Such trials are vital to avoid the loss of thousands of pounds in working hours, but also it will allow you review how effective the system is before making any large scale commitments to the workforce.

2) Check the infrastructure. One thing that the tests won’t always highlight is how network connectivity and the working platform perform at particularly busy times or when there are unexpected outages, say of an internet connection. Ensure that the internet connection will support the solution no matter what day to day problems it may encounter. Many businesses just rely on ADSL services, but these often won’t be sufficient.

3) Review security. The threat landscape will quickly multiply once personal devices, dual-purpose devices and multiple locations are introduced. Have an expert analyse the specific security controls that will be needed to protect against these and other threats.

Depending on the nature of the business, homeworking can, and often does, provide a number of advantages in terms of both productivity and costs. In addition, a viable homeworking strategy can often provide a valuable ‘fall-back’ if employees are unable to work from the office for any reason.

Every business is different, however, and each will have its own unique objectives. As such, businesses should not choose to implement a homeworking model just because it happens to be a ‘trend’ among small businesses at the moment. Equally, businesses shouldn’t ignore homeworking because Yahoo! has deemed it unsuitable for its business. Instead, businesses that take this route should do so because it is the option best suited to their particular needs.”

About the author

Robert Rutherford is CEO of specialist IT consultancy QuoStar Solutions.

http://www.quostar.com/

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