Managing the flexible work phenomenon is the next challenge for businesses

By Richard Morris, UK CEO, Basepoint

June 30th 2017 marked three years since flexible working rights were extended to millions of workers across the UK. The concept is one that has soared in popularity as businesses and workers alike recognise the efficiency and productivity advantages to be gained from a more agile approach to work. Our own figures reveal that, on average, 46% of UK professionals work from remote locations 2.5 days per week or more.

This take-up of flexible working is supported by a network of high-quality workspace across the UK. For many, the option to work from home simply isn’t practical. Few can afford to dedicate home space to work, and even those who have the room find themselves open to distractions from everyday home life. Professionally designed, conveniently located workspace is providing the plug-and-play productivity that workers and managers require.

In fact, the conversation has moved on. Whether or not to offer flexible work is a moot point – businesses of every size, and across every sector, are already operating in this way as the statistics prove. Now, senior-level discussions are concerned with how to best manage this remote workforce.

Business leaders are tasked with establishing new measurement and reporting protocols that move away from judging productivity on “presenteeism” and, instead, use results as the benchmark for performance. Of course, managers want to know that their staff are putting in the necessary effort and want to be able to contact them frequently. But this is not a one-way request. Employees, too want the security of regular contact with bosses and colleagues and the ability to bounce ideas and discuss challenges.

We recently surveyed professionals to ask them about how – and how often – they expected to communicate when working remotely. Results clearly show the importance of tools such as instant messaging in today’s business environment. Seventy-four per cent of respondents agreed that remote workers and managers should remain connected via instant messaging apps as well as telephone.

Frequent phone communication remains important, with 84% of professionals believing that managers should speak with remote workers several times a week. And over half (55%) believe video calls should be implemented at least once a week.

Another clear message to emerge is that working remotely should not eliminate face-to-face meetings. But this time together can be less frequent. Eighty-four per cent of respondents agreed that remote staff should attend monthly meetings with managers.

When it comes to tracking productivity, results were more mixed. The use of IT systems to track and measure levels of work activity was regarded as a necessity by only half (51%) of respondents.

Clearly, business decision-makers must strike a balance between staying on top of remote worker productivity without seemingly monitoring every working minute. This balance will vary from business to business and will change and shift as different technologies emerge. But whatever the detail, business leaders must quickly understand the picture and position to ensure that workers are best-placed and best-equipped to produce stand-out work. This is not a challenge for the future – it is a challenge for now.