Smarter working is the latest jargon in the world of people management and HR. Except, the data we’ve seen so far suggests that it’s actually a fundamental shift in the needs and expectations of the workforce.
It won’t be long before smarter working becomes the norm. This is everything we’ve learned about it so far, why it’s important, and how best to implement it.
What’s the difference between flexible working and smarter working?
Flexible working is generally to do with hours. Can your teams work flexibly so that they’re not chained to the usual 9am-5.30pm shift? Can you accommodate carers, parents, health appointments, or maybe just people who’ve bought their first home and need to be in for deliveries? There are so many reasons why people might not be able to do exactly the same hours every day – and it is stressful having to organise around work shifts that are set in stone.
Smarter working encompasses flexible working, but adds in the ability to work remotely (or away from your desk, at least) with all the tools and technology people need to seamlessly do their jobs. It’s about allowing people to work to their strengths – managing their own time and responsibilities. It’s about measuring productivity, not attendance.
Sounds simple. So why are companies struggling to implement smarter working?
We’ve been working with a client to help them understand their Organisational Fitness, but as a result of that, they wanted to go into more depth on smarter working. The client didn’t necessarily experience all of these issues, but we were able to build this guide based on the findings. Here are the 7 biggest barriers we have found and what you can do about them.
1. Smarter working guidelines and boundaries.
This creates a few issues. Not having any guidelines can lead to some people not being in the office very much, or not available at all during typical office hours. Maybe whole teams have the same day out of the office and there’s no-one to represent that team in meetings. The opposite is true as well, in that people might not use smarter working at all because they don’t want to be perceived as slacking off or leaving early.
Solution: Create a clear policy (that leaves room for flexibility)
- Set some general hours when people should be available, whether remotely or in the office.
- Set days where everyone should be in. Here at Qlearsite we find that people tend to work from home on Mondays and Fridays if they can, which can lead to an empty office at crucial times of the week. So we’ve set Tuesday to Thursday as the days when people can choose to work remotely ( remaining open to exceptions based on personal circumstances).
- Give your teams independence and responsibility to communicate where they all are, so there’s always a presence from each team in the office.
2. Smarter working isn’t actively supported.
Maybe you’ve got some guidelines. But if you’re not promoting them, some teams will be using smarter working, and others won’t. It could be a big cause of resentment or the feeling of unfairness.
Solution: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Make smarter working part of your on-boarding process so there’s no doubt for any new starters.
- Make sure all of your managers are encouraging their teams to understand the guidelines and help them to have an open conversation with their teams.
- Make it easy for individuals to request smarter working.
3. Your managers aren’t leading by example.
We already know that when managers are disengaged, it means their teams are less engaged too. We’ve found that managers generally have more meetings, and often need to be a bit more physically present during typical office hours. As a result, it’s more difficult for some managers to promote the benefits of smarter working. We’ve also found that among lots of managers, there are sometimes inconsistent decisions about smarter working. This creates tension when people are allowed more access to smarter working than others.
Solution: Make smarter working benefit managers, plus training and shared decision-making.
- Make sure they model flexible working themselves to help it become an acceptable thing to do.
- Invest in tools like video conferencing that lets managers be less physically present.
- Make sure the guidelines are there so that all decisions are made consistently.
- Put something in place to establish why requests are being turned down. If it’s a fair decision you still need to explain it.
4. There’s a need, or preference, for staff to be present.
You want to offer smarter working, but it makes more sense for your business that your teams are actually present in the office for the most part.
Solution: Create the right mix of spaces in your office
You still need to be flexible for various personal circumstances, and have the tools to work remotely, but there are other things you can do in the office to promote smarter working:
- Create breakout rooms, eating spaces, enough meeting rooms, plus places that are quiet. If people want to get away from their desks to somewhere they can be creative, or focused, that’s part of smarter working too.
- Give people somewhere they can make a private call, quickly. You’re causing stress when your employees can’t take care of a personal problem. You’re also losing productivity if they have to actually leave the building for 20 minutes for a simple reason.
- Make sure technology in your meeting rooms work well, and that everyone’s been trained to use it.
5. You’ve got teams that have to be in a certain place at a certain time
Receptionists, call centre staff, drivers… there are definitely functions where it’s very difficult to give them smarter working. We’ve found that a big cause of stress for people doing shift work is when they can’t get a shift covered for personal circumstances.
Solution: Be nice, make it up to them. Improve staff planning.
- Make it easier to swap shifts.
- You’ll need to get creative about how you make it up to people who can’t use smarter working. A financial incentive? Free lunches? Extra holiday? The benefit of smarter working is that staff feel valued – that’s your objective. Our research into organisational culture tells us that when staff feel valued, it reflects in your customer service and organisational health.
6. Hot desking
This is well documented. If every desk you have is a hot desk, people waste time looking for somewhere to work. They feel stressed about getting to work early enough to find a space, and they ultimately feel ‘homeless’, with less sense of belonging.
Solution: Don’t use hot desks for everyone
It’s useful to have hot desks for staff who move around, but give people a home if it makes sense to do so. They’ll be happier and more productive.
7. You don’t have technology to work remotely
Collaboration tools are so common now that people are using them in their everyday lives. If someone can’t work from home because you’re not up to date with basic technology, you’ll probably lose them.
Solution: Roll out simple technology!
- Teleconferencing, like Zoom or Skype, with the same tech available in meeting rooms.
- Make sure your internal systems aren’t outdated or difficult to use – it just creates frustration and makes your company look tired.
- Security and restrictions – don’t lock things down too much if you can help it. It feels like you don’t trust your teams. VPN so they can get their files securely, without being in the office.
The 4-day week – smarter working?
Recently in the news there’s lots of talk about 4-day weeks. Some people baulk at it being a fairytale. Others say it boosts productivity – but what does it mean in a practical sense?
Well first off, it doesn’t mean you have to close your business for an extra day.
If you’re interested in retaining employees and finding out what they want from their work/life balance, our recent research is telling. When asked what would help them with that balance, flexible working was the third highest response, and part of that was a condensed working week. That is, 4 days, doing the same number of hours. Could you manage your staff in a way that people could work 4 days if they wanted to? Doesn’t sound so scary after all, does it?
When asked about suggestions for changing working practices, all 10 categories contained responses about a 4-day week.
So there we have it - the full lowdown on smarter working. If you want help understanding how your employees feel, how you can boost retention, and the state of your Organisational Fitness - get in touch.