Flexible Working & Communications
One of the biggest challenges that a business enjoying flexible working faces is getting the communications right, both internally and externally. Customers, colleagues and managers need to know how and when they can get in touch with anyone who may be remote working.
Superfast broadband is transforming the ways people can communicate and this makes it easier to overcome the communication challenges involved in flexible working.
Of course the need for communication will vary between employees, very much depending on their individual roles and levels of customer contact. For example, someone in product support will need to ensure they are able to deal with queries in a timely manner. However, the company accountant may be able to get on with the job in hand and only need a weekly meeting, increasing productivity.
As part of your planning stage you should develop a communications plan for flexible working. You can specify how and when managers, colleagues and customers can be contacted under normal circumstances, as well as the communications procedure for when something urgent comes up when they are teleworking or mobile working. You may need to set expected response times, specifying, for example, that if you leave an urgent voicemail, you expect to hear back within half an hour.
Personal contact will become even more important and you should aim to get your flexible workers together regularly, for example at least once a week. As part of their new work life balance, employees will usually enjoy the opportunity for team meetings. Superfast broadband and other technology can help make remote communication easier but there is still a vital role for regular face to face contact.
There are lots of communication channels, including remote web access, fixed and mobile phones (including voicemail and text) email, Skype or other methods of tele- and video- conferencing, Instant messaging and of course face-to-face meetings. Modern phone systems mean that a single phone number can be used to reach someone no matter where they are at home, in the office or even on their mobile! So now working on the move becomes a reality. With superfast broadband, voice over internet telephony makes it possible to save significant amounts of money on calls, as well as be contacted seamlessly on one number.
In most cases, you should aim to develop a blend of communications. Don't just rely on email for example to communicate with your employees - a phone call can be more effective and personal if you are not seeing them every day because they are telecommuting and a face to face chat on Skype can be even better.
If you have superfast broadband, you should also investigate the various cloud computing applications that are available to you. There are now many choices of applications designed to facilitate team collaboration, so a number of staff can all work together on the same documents, just as though they were together in person.
Maintaining the buzz associated with a creative and dynamic team can be a real challenge when they are teleworking and spending a lot less time together. In addition, many employees, especially those without family commitments, find the social aspect of working in a team is an important part of their life.
Make sure you plan to get your teams together on a regular basis to overcome the disadvantages of flexible working. How often this takes place will depend on the team and their roles. Some businesses need to meet at least once a week, whereas others find they need to meet less often.
It is important that you make the most of the time that the team is together. You may want to encourage creativity and interaction rather than making sure they all sit down and get on with their individual jobs they can do that when remote working! Often this can be done by meeting in informal surroundings, such as a pleasant cafe or conference centre.
And the team will need to keep informal communications flowing when they are remote working. Quite a few businesses find that Instant Messaging services like MSN are very useful for this. They are free, allow you to set your presenteeism (eg Online, Busy, Away, Be right back) and you can attach a webcam to them!
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter also has a role in maintaining internal communications and building teamwork. Many businesses now have a Facebook page and Twitter presence and this can be a fast and effective way of communicating with staff, colleagues and clients alike.
Indeed, Siemens have set themselves the ambition to get rid of all internal email contact within their business and use instant messaging as an alternative.
Certainly, in future, businesses in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly have the opportunity to rewrite the rules regarding the ways in which businesses communicate internally and externally.