In today's world, the ‘work anywhere, anytime’ model has quickly established itself as the new normal for many businesses, as attested by some of London’s largest banks: Natwest, HSBC and JP Morgan, who have all recently moved to a hybrid working structure, encouraging their employees to work from home where possible.
Employees are keen for it to happen, with some even threatening to go elsewhere if demands for more flexible working hours and environments aren’t met.
As the economy opens up, staff are keen to retain one of the very few positive things to have arrived from the pandemic – an improvement in how and when we work.
83% of UK office workers agree that flexible working is here to stay, with many now expecting to be able to work wherever and whenever suits them best - from kitchen tables to family villas.
Of course there is skepticism from some naysayers, especially those of which have vested interests and large investments in commercial property and who may stand to lose the most from such changes. But the hybrid model of work has the potential to become a competitive advantage for UK businesses – as long as the correct infrastructure and practices are put in place to make it work.
However, supporting a highly fluid workforce creates a brand new set of challenges never seen before. So how can businesses create and support this new ‘anywhere, anytime’ workplace?
What does work anywhere, anytime actually look like?
The crucial factor of this new working model is trust. But as we know, employees everywhere have proven they don’t need to be watched to remain productive.
It took a global pandemic forcing everyone into their homes to open the eyes of employers, but there were even some employees that were reluctant to take the plunge on remote working.
Employers feared productivity would slip, while employees didn’t want to appear lacking in dedication to their career. Fortunately, this scenario was proven wrong on both accounts.
Productivity has at the very least maintained its level from before, if not improved in some circles, while remote working options have been instrumental in reducing the stigma and career progression issues around maternity leave.
Employees went above and beyond during this period, but the genie is out of the bottle. Having proved that trust can be repaid, employees want to extend and add to the benefits of flexible working.
What are the challenges in supporting this model?
It is no longer necessary to restrict work to between the hours of 9 and 5, or even from Monday to Friday.
There is a set amount of work to be done, or a set number of hours. Technology, trust and flexibility allows us to redress our work-life balance, increasing happiness and life-satisfaction while still delivering results.
In our survey on the subject of hybrid working, a priority of UK workers was being able to effectively communicate and collaborate with colleagues, with 31% saying the lack of ability to do this whilst working from home has negatively affected productivity and motivation. It’s clear that some time in the office - plus effective IT equipment - is essential to the effective adoption of hybrid working.
In a recent PwC survey of business leaders, the top priorities for executives around hybrid working investments were ‘tools for virtual collaboration’, ‘IT infrastructure to secure virtual connectivity’, and ‘Training for managers to manage a more virtual workforce’. These three areas form the backbone of remote working requirements.
Collaborative project management software, such as Microsoft Teams, Monday.com and Slack have become commonly used tools in the recent technological acceleration. But one challenge that still hasn’t seen signs of improvement is the provision of IT support, with 25% of UK remote workers insisting that poor performing or broken IT equipment caused a loss of productivity.
If help is to be delivered in a decentralised way, outside the confines of an office environment, then businesses need to consider additional innovations.
24/7 IT support is now expected as standard, as is remote software that tells owners about the health of their laptops before it reaches critical condition.
But some businesses are going one step further to support colleagues by investing in smart lockers to be placed in specific locations that offer replacement IT equipment, all backed up by the cloud.
Our research has shown that 86% of the UK and 91% of the USA workforce would have welcomed the option to pick up replacement equipment using a self-service system while the original was being repaired.
When something goes wrong, remote working employees need to be able to quickly and simply request replacement tech. A seamless ‘click and collect’ model, similar to what we experience in retail, could be the future of the modern workplace.
Is work anywhere, anytime truly the future of work?
When deciding on any new approach, it’s always best to see who else has produced something similar. The work anywhere, anytime model has already been embraced by a number of successful companies of varying sizes, all looking to reap the benefits of early adoption.
The music streaming platform Spotify has also acknowledged that, “Having a flexible approach is a great advantage and jewel in our Talent Attraction crown”.
PwC have just announced what they call ‘The Deal’, which offers all of their employees the option to take up flexible working.
Speaking on the change, Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC, said: “We’ve long promoted flexible working, and we hope today’s announcements make it much more the norm rather than the exception. We want our people to feel trusted and empowered.”
New working models shouldn’t just be a reaction of the pandemic, however - they should aim to outlast it, with a long-term aim of supporting employees and the business. Without strategic planning, we risk losing the advantages of hybrid, flexible working while slipping back into our old habits.
The future has changed. We have to be able to constantly evolve how we operate if we’re to overcome new challenges and realise new opportunities.
For businesses competing for the best talent, flexibility over working conditions will soon move from being a perk to being a necessity.