Work From Home Week and the evolution of flexible working

This week we recognise ‘Work from Home Week’; a national campaign that aims to inform employers and employees alike of the benefits a more flexible approach to working could bring. It’s a fairly modern concept, but one that has gained momentum over the last few years, with an increasing number of businesses becoming aware of the tools available to them which can break the shackles of the traditional working environment.

In fact, according to research from Timewise, 87% of full-time employees in the UK either work flexibly already in some shape or form or say they would like to. Figures from the Office of National Statistics also predict that half of the UK workforce will be working entirely remotely by 2020.

However, utilising innovative collaboration and communication tools is the key to actually making it work. Change is good, but without the proper environment in place, businesses will not see the same levels of productivity they are used to in the traditional office environment. The good news is that it is entirely achievable and may actually increase productivity levels.

An office away from the office

This is where technology comes in and I get to talk about one of my favourite products – Microsoft Teams.

In the same way that Facebook and its many features has opened the realms of possibility when it comes to communicating with friends and relatives all over the world, Microsoft Teams, to me, is the business-centred equivalent and a key driver of remote working.

The way we communicate has changed dramatically and Teams recognises this with the ability to video-conference, post quick updates and share ‘live’ working files all built in to one slick, secure and contained environment. Alongside the rest of the Office 365 suite, I’m equipped with the tools to work from anywhere, with anyone in my business (or out, with the recent introduction of Guest Access).

However, technology doesn’t just open up the possibility of voluntary remote working; it can also make sure your business keeps running smoothly when there is no choice but to work from home.

Only yesterday, our Glasgow office went into disaster recovery mode due to flooding. Most staff were forced to work from home, yet it went completely unnoticed as the business continued to run as it would if they were in the office.

Phone calls from customers could be connected to each member the team using their normal number with thanks to our hosted telephone system, questions that would have been asked to neighbouring colleagues were communicated instantly over Skype Instant Messaging or Teams and important files could be accessed securely through SharePoint and OneDrive. It wasn’t ideal, but it was perfect timing to highlight the benefits of these flexible technologies!

The future of the workplace

With ever-evolving technology options allowing for work outside of the office, another key catalyst for remote working is the changing workforce.

In a previous blog I wrote about how my generation, also known as Gen-Z and generally defined as those born between 1995 and 2012, will be paving the way for changes in the work environment as we enter the world of employment, bringing with us a new set of values and the expectation to be able to communicate freely, at any time, to anywhere in the world.

According to a survey by office design company Peldon Rose, mental health and wellbeing support was valued the most by Generation Z, with 76% agreeing it was important for their employer to promote their mental wellbeing compared with 72% of workers across all generations.

This is just one statistic that demonstrates the shift in values that employers will need to be prepared to cater to in the near future, in order to retain new talent. To some that may sound egotistical, but what organisations need to remember is that the relationship between employer and employee is, in fact, a two-way street, especially when it comes to Gen-Z.

It was once a given that someone would join a company and stay in the same job for the long run, with employers offering job security in return for full commitment to the business. But things have changed in the workplace, and loyalty is one of those things. With portfolio-working on the rise, a big way a company can maintain loyalty from their employees is to provide a work environment that people want to stay in.

Smart employers are those that recognise better performance comes when staff are healthy, motivated and focused. According to mental health charity, Mind, research consistently shows that when employees feel their work is meaningful and they are valued and supported, they tend to have higher wellbeing levels, be more committed to the organisation’s goals and, importantly, they perform better too.

Holding on to long-standing talent

It’s not just the younger generations who are seeking for a more flexible working environment. In 2017, more than half those who retired were doing so earlier than their state pension age or company retirement date (Prudential). With them they take skills and experience that an entirely new workforce may not be able to offer. If provided with the option to work from home more often, we may see this percentage drop.

Practising what we preach

At TSG, we recognise the value and benefits of flexible working, both for lifestyle factors and better performance of certain roles. That’s why just over 40% of our team members work from home or out of the office on a regular basis. Shehzad Amin is one of our talented Office 365 Productivity Consultants and happens to fall into that percentage. Based in his hometown of Manchester, he uses innovative collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with his colleagues and finds the flexibility of working from home suits his busy family-orientated lifestyle. I spoke to Shehzad to find out more…

Amelia: So, you work from home most of the time… I’d love to know how having this flexibility fits in with your lifestyle?

Shehzad: Oh, it’s perfect! In my previous role I didn’t have that work-life balance and it was difficult for me and it was difficult for my family as well. There was a lot of travelling, a lot of late nights, a lot of going away, just being away from the kids… I’ve got young kids… so it was difficult.

Working from home, it just changes the whole dynamic.

A: Do you find working from home influences your productivity?

S: I think when you’re a happy person working from home, it increases your productivity. When you’re in that zone you’ve got no distractions, you’re feeling good, you’re not worrying about things and you can concentrate one hundred percent on your job.

A: Obviously when you’re working from home, you’ll have your work and personal lives mixing together. How do you separate the two?

S: It can be difficult, you just have to give yourself some boundaries. What I tend to do is, say for example I start work at around 8.45, I’ll log onto my machine and if I do have a tea break, I’ll make sure it’s not longer than ten minutes. I won’t turn on the TV in the house, I make sure that it’s always off. You just have to be a bit more disciplined.

At the same time as well, sometimes you just need a bit of fresh air. So, what I like to do at lunchtime is take a stroll, for about half an hour or so to get out the home, just walk around for a bit, clear my head, not think about work and then come back. I think that helps as well, just breaking up the day.

A: Are there any tools you use on a day-to-day basis to schedule your time and collaborate with your team?

S: Microsoft To-Do is a really good tool to have. So basically, you can specify all the tasks that you’re doing that day and you have a little checklist to tick them off as you go.

I’m also quite a heavy user of Microsoft Teams, which I use to keep in touch with my local team at TSG.

A: How do you avoid miscommunication when working with a team who are all in different places?

S: Yes, that’s a really good question… it can happen. I think because we all collaborate on Microsoft Teams, if we have any problems we tend to post those questions on there, then our team will come in and everyone will chip in with an answer. It’s really good because you’ll get a conversation flowing within Teams without having a massive email trail, it’s a really good way of communicating. And then, if you want to delve a bit deeper, you can have an individual chat with that person through Teams and just ask for a bit more information. So, everyone’s in the loop.

Check out our full interview with Shehzad below: