Flexible Working: the Pros, the Cons and the Technology
New online tools and the desire for a better work-life balance have made flexible working a realistic option for many people. But whether you want to work from home yourself, or are considering offering more flexibility to your employees, it is important to avoid some common traps.
Challenges for home workers
People who start working from home face several potential challenges, which often include a lack of structure and motivation – or conversely, a tendency to overwork. The keys to avoiding these pitfalls include:
- Establishing a daily structure and routine – to be productive it is helpful for people to feel like they are in ‘work mode’ rather than ‘home mode’, which usually means keeping to a disciplined routine
- Taking proper breaks – ensure the routine includes breaks and a time to stop at the end of the ‘working day’
- Having a proper work space – a dedicated desk away from distractions can make the difference between being extremely productive and wasting hours of time.
Challenges for employers
If implemented properly, flexible working can help you to retain your best staff and even make them more productive. However, you should also be aware of the traps too, by:
- Setting clear goals – ensure that those working from home have clear objectives, so that they know exactly what they have to achieve and by when
- Communicating effectively – regular communication between the office and your network of homeworkers will enable you to monitor and encourage productivity, and also encourage collaboration.
Using the right technology
Fortunately, there is a now a proliferation of low-cost or free online tools to help with the challenges of flexible working, from cloud-based file-sharing to video conferencing. Here are just a few of the most popular ones:
- Communication – conference phone calls can be conducted easily via services like Powwownow, while video applications such as Skype and Google Hangouts enable you to hold virtual meetings across multiple venues. For real-time communication, apps such as Salesforce Chatter are an instant and less formal alternative to email
- File sharing – you can share and collaborate on word-processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more in real time with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple’s iCIoud or Dropbox.
You may find that you increasingly need to offer flexibility to attract and keep the best staff, so it is worth considering ways to make it as productive as possible.
Please note: This article is a commentary on general principles and should not be interpreted as advice for your specific situation.