Out of Office: Meet your new agile workforce

Published on the 07/09/2017 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

Staying connected while working remotely has never been easier. So why are you all still in the city?…

Back in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted – optimist that he was – that by 2030 we’d only be working 15 hours a week.

“Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem [of boredom] for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”

The three hour working day? Not sure if you’ve noticed, but it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

But what if considerably shorter workdays were still possible?

Well we’re an idealistic bunch at iStart, and we think just such a thing is possible, technically at least. We reckon by harnessing the available tech, ditching the 9-to-5 dogma, and just generally working smarter, it might be possible to get a whole lot closer to Keynes’s utopian vision than we are.

But how?

The evidence
When it comes to reducing hours in the office, a ‘distributed workforce’ – formerly known by the clunkier ‘telecommuting’ moniker – is surely the holy grail.

Others have done it. Salesforce, Amazon, SAP, Oracle and Apple have all embraced remote working to differing degrees and there’s plenty of hard evidence for the advantages of the agile workspace, including increases in productivity, real cost savings and greater efficiency.

Your employees are already onboard. 77 percent of millennials insist that flexible work hours makes them more productive and the 2.3 million workers already doing it can’t be wrong…

Simply put, dropping the office-space obsession is a way to score great talent, reduce costs and create happier, less stressed staff. Win, win, win.

The tech
If you’re open minded enough to supply the tools, smart enough to embrace the cloud and tech-savvy enough to pull it altogether, you’re halfway there.

Remote workers need access to company systems, software, and data. The challenge is to create infrastructure that supports remote workers and makes the formal office surplus to requirements.

Cloud technology addresses a multitude of issues for the distributed workforce, providing  collaboration and communication tools, access to databases, and a host of software and applications, often on a per-user basis. Roll-out of such solutions can be speedy, inexpensive and nimble. Chop and change your solutions as new technologies become available, as you refine your approach or as you start scaling wildly.

Cloud tech will help you keep open the lines of communication too – a real danger for remote workforces – but there’s a catch: there’s no killer-app for total office communication. You’ll need a range of solutions to suit the message and the employee. Skype (or one of the growing number of alternatives), email, IM and mobile are good for starters. Similarly, collaboration software like Slack, Trello and Atlassian keeps co-worker collaboration and conversation going, in spite of the tyranny of distance.

Measuring productivity is important of course, both to ensure employees are hitting targets and to offer a sense of oversight in the face of isolation. Well defined and expressed business objectives and clear employee targets are a good place to start.

There are downsides, of course. Management mistrust (and the fact that some employees can’t be trusted); security, confidentiality and data integrity issues; and the dissolution of company culture are all potential risks.

But risk can be managed and the potential is great. New methods for working when and how we want are becoming available every day. As the office – or lack thereof – becomes more fluid, it’s simply becomes a case of managing your staff well and providing them with the tools they need to succeed.

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