One of the issues that’s really come to the fore this year is the issue of the Carbon Footprint. Sustainability has become a hot topic with it’s inclusion in all public sector bidding together with a knock on effect into the private sector supply chains that supply them. This means that for a start you need to have a proper environmental policy. Lamely wittering about low energy light bulbs and recycling printer cartridges is not going to cut it.
When you combine this with the rise in the cost of diesel (which translates into more than double for the heating oil for our nursery) you can see that anything that allows people to work remotely and flexibly without travelling is going to be a GOOD THING.
So working smarter not only gets you some brownie points with the public sector bidding fraternity but also allows you to save fuel and transport costs. In our own business nearly all our orders come electronically or by referral. In terms of travel all the despatches are collected, produce is either collected or delivered by van and most business travel involves a 10 mile round trip to Hayward’s Heath followed by the train. Going to the Thames Valley still involves driving but increasingly we are trying to hold meetings either virtually or in central London where participants can meet using public transport.
Most of the IT tools that are needed were covered in the section on collaborative gangs – because most work that’s done remotely is either communication or writing reports or creating other documents or admin – apart from decentralised call centres that is!
The challenges for ordinary companies who aren’t one man bands fall into several categories.
1 – The tax and health and safety implications of having staff working from home.
2 – Keeping road warriors in contact with their central data store. Again the blackberry and Virtual Private Network have largely resolved these issues
3- Monitoring output.
This last seems to be the killer as we have evolved a management culture of presenteeism in the UK which is hard to break. Monitoring sales people is easy because they’re measured by results. People producing written work are also easy to monitor because either the volume of work produced to an acceptable standard is there or its not. The problem lies in admin work which is less easy to monitor.
As you might expect organisations like BT have behaved as early adopters here. They now have 63000 – 2/3 of the total workforce working remotely and flexibly. What follows is taken from a WorkWise case study. (http://www.workwise.org. was set up to promote remote and flexible working in the UK it has a list of accredited advisers of whom I am one. I have been working remotely using a laptop since 1996)
When flexible working was first introduced into BT managers were concerned about the lack of face to face contact with employees and how they could keep track of them on a day-today basis. Now the technology is able to bridge that gap and make the job easier but managers still have to work harder to create a team environment. They must be able to
They learnt to build teams remotely using technology and team-building skills. They also need to learn to manage by output, setting clear objectives for each individual and measuring against a score card. This is underpinned by BT’s culture which supports flexible working and regular appraisals.
BT has put HR policies in place to ensure that flexible working and home working are implemented successfully. They want to be sure that the home office is ergonomically sound and insist on a health and safety check for all home workers.
Managers need good communications skills one-to-one and with the team. Although this is more difficult than with office based people, most employees have mobile phones and a growing proportion now have blackberries. Increasingly people have wireless enabled laptops and BT takes full advantage of the technology it sells to its corporate customers.
Employees need to let the company know what their preference is for working time. Mangers need to respect this and need to trust that the employee will get the work done without close supervision. This depends on the maturity of the employment relationship and BT runs a management development programme internally that supports the flexible working culture.
BT has been running a flexible working programme for so long that in most parts of the organisation it has become the norm. It has clear quantifiable data on the benefits and has the HR policies and support in place to help managers implement it effectively.
Our experience has been that it more than pays off, very rapidly.”
So the action points here are
1) make sure that the equipment is up to date and is used in a reviewed, ergonomic environment
2) Measure a range of different outputs.
3) Institute a combination of chats and environments for informal discussion. http://www.Ning.com is a great tool for this as it provides a social network in a box and can be used for customer aftercare as well as for enabling teams to communicate.
The illustration shows our Ning Punch above your weight community which we set up to support people who’ve been through the programme
4) Train managers in developing remote team building skills. Much of this is about treating people as grown-ups, being responsive, keeping them informed and working on the basis of defined, measurable objectives. We are developing some training materials based on these issues.
Finally some of our interviewees have developed environments of their own to allow people to collaborate and to effectively make markets. Mark Lee has set up an environment to allow tax advice specialists to sell their services to the mainstream accounting profession. You can see it here http://www.taxadvicenetwork.co.uk/
Perhaps the most ambitious approach is Michael Wolff’s http://www.Ki-work.com . This aims to provide a global remote working environment which will be run by subject experts in each of several hundred specialist topic areas. These will recruit their own network of consultants and will be able to bid for contracts to be delivered remotely across the world.
His marketing strategy is based very much on the networking tools we have discussed. Consultants will be sourced through Facebook which as its membership matures will become the chief space in which talent can be found. Contracts will be sourced via Linked-in whose transactional, corporate feeling environment gives a feeling of safety and respectability to those who have not yet jumped ship.