A Bright Future for Flexible Working

Guest post by Tim Stone, VP of EMEA Marketing at Polycom

Does IBM’s recent “clampdown” on remote working spell the beginning of the end for flexible, anywhere working? Far from it, says new research from Polycom. In our global survey of 24,000+ workers, we found that not only is flexible working on the rise, it even adds value to your business if it’s done right.

Anywhere working = Productive working

An overwhelming 98 percent of workers said they’re more productive if they can choose where they work – the days of ‘working anywhere’ equating to ‘chilling at home in front of the TV’ are clearly over. We can now have immediate access, wherever we are, to the internet, a phone, a tablet, a conference call, a video call, even content sharing; we’re often just a click away from (virtually) being in the same room as our global team members.

work from anywhere jobs

And it’s better for teamwork…

Working anywhere can actually build team relationships – if technology is involved. Nine out of ten workers said technology is a key factor in improving teamwork when working anywhere, and 92 percent said video specifically improves relationships.

One of my favourite findings: nearly half of us worldwide (me included) consider the tone of our emails more carefully if we’ve also spoken to the recipient on video. Speaking with someone face-to-face (whether that’s in person or over video) means we pick up on body language as well as what people are saying; we get to know the person and their reactions quicker, which helps us anticipate their responses. I often encourage my team to use video to add a human touch to any collaboration. Ultimately, working anywhere can be as productive for teamwork as being in the same place – if not more.

After all, when the communication is right, location is irrelevant.


Unless you’re missing trust

The observations so far all point to one thing – anywhere working is the future of work, and it’s already starting to change the way we work, all around the world. There are, however, ways to make anywhere working even more accepted.

Almost two thirds of workers worry that their colleagues think they’re not working as hard if they’re not in the office. They are also anxious about feeling pressured to be ‘always on’ or work longer hours if they embrace flexible working – a concern particularly for older employees.

What’s the underlying theme here? It’s trust, or rather a lack thereof in workplace culture.

I’m lucky that I work in a company where working anywhere has, for years, been actively encouraged. It means that trust is intrinsic; we all know we’re being measured on output, not how much face-time we put in at the office. What’s more, we know how to work and be efficient wherever we are.

starbucks cafe

Looking at this research, though, I realise that I’ve been taking my situation for granted. Working anywhere is hugely beneficial, but only if you know how to do it. This is harder for companies where flexible working is a newer concept or more uncommon and, consequently, there’s less guidance and understanding about how to do it.

That’s where we step in. It’s our job as leaders and team members to prevent these worries about working anywhere from becoming obstacles to greater happiness for our people and higher productivity for our companies. To do this, we need to instil a culture of trust.

So how do we build trust?

Sixty-two percent of workers said that, to dissipate their fears around anywhere working, companies should prioritise equipping the team with technology that’s easy to use. With the right technology, all workers can be part of the team wherever, whenever.

Another popular suggestion was to provide guidelines on managing anywhere working. If the whole team has the same understanding of what’s expected when they work anywhere, and how to do it, the fear of misunderstanding is removed. And interestingly, there’s a consensus across all levels of seniority that this should be a blanket policy. If everyone has the same access to anywhere working, it removes the feeling of being judged or segregated by title – and it makes flexible working more acceptable.

I’m not criticising what IBM is doing – they may have insights on their employees’ needs that suggest office cubicles, breakout rooms or huddle rooms within an office are better for them. There’s no perfect combination of hours, places or positions to work in to be your most productive. Even so, listening to what teams and individuals need to strike the right work-life balance, and taking responsibility to accommodate them are crucial for a healthy, happy workforce – which will mean a healthy, happy business.