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Unlocking the benefits of a remote workforce takes the right mindset, technology & policies

In organisations where flexible working is permitted but its parameters are ill-defined, the full benefits won’t be reaped, according to Tony Simonsen, Managing Director of Polycom Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). 

A global study by the video collaboration company found that Australia is one of the most flexible countries to work in, with nine in ten companies (90%) offering flexible working benefits.

The Polycom Anywhere Working study, which involved a survey of 25,000 workers including 2000 Australians, also found three in four Australian respondents (75%) take advantage of flexible working practices, compared with 62% of the global population.

Further, four in five Australian workers (79%) said they used video collaboration multiple times per day to overcome the tyranny of distance in organisations with geographically dispersed workforces.  Globally, a majority of respondents agreed that a) the ability to work anywhere has a positive impact on productivity (98%) and b) video collaboration improves workplace relationships and teamwork (91%).

Despite the perceived benefits of working anywhere, one in three respondents (34%) globally were concerned they would be overlooked for a promotion if they worked remotely. This concern increased amongst millennials (18 to 30 year olds), with three in five (62%) beleiving they would not be perceived as hard-working if they were not in the office.

Simonsen spoke to Dynamic Business about what benefits that can be derived from flexible work arrangements when employers adopt the right mindset and implement the right tools and administrative measures.

DB: Why are so many Australian employers offering flexible work?

Simonsen: Right now, Australians are experiencing massive changes within their workplace. Not so long ago, it was important to be ‘in the office’ to have ‘face time’ with colleagues and senior leaders. There has been a shift away from this way of thinking. This is being driven by the rapid acceleration of technology, with advancements that give people the freedom to work the way they want, regardless of where they are, plus the ability to strike a greater work-life balance.

To many, especially those working in the tech industry or for start-ups and other small businesses operating on lean budgets, remote or flexible working is already a way of life. For others, the mention of ‘remote work’ can be quite a daunting prospect for management and employees alike.

Offering flexible work arrangements, however, provides employers with a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, with part of the reason being that employees increasingly expect it.  Flexible work arrangements can also be a great way to bridge the geographical divide between urban and rural Australia and, in doing so, helping to transform the economy.

DB: What is needed to ensure the success of a flexible work regime?

Simonsen: Employers need to set policies and guidelines, and ensure these are communicated effectively to their people. In work environments where flexible working is permitted but its parameters are ill-defined, there will inevitably be issues. What’s clear is that businesses with successful mobile workforces have clear, defined policies that are applied to everyone in the business, regardless of seniority or situation. It’s about transparency and fairness for all.

There also needs to be a behavioural shift amongst employers; namely, outputs need to be measured rather than attendance and hours spent sitting at a desk. Setting clear goals and objectives, benchmarking, reporting, and employee evaluations should all form a prominent part of managing a remote worker or a geographically dispersed workforce. Success in adopting a flexible, working anywhere culture requires a blending of technologies and workspaces that shift the emphasis from “how do we wire this building?” to “how do we wire our employees?”  It’s about ensuring ensuring remote workers and office-based employees have same ability to meet and collaborate, regardless of location, and get the job done.

DB: Which technologies are facilitating flexible work arrangements?

Simonsen: The best technologies are those that are easy to use with intuitive user interfaces like Microsoft Skype for Business which integrates with familiar tools like Outlook, making it very easy to get up and running.  Tools like instant messaging, video conferencing software and hardware, and phones with HD quality audio are also useful when collaborating remotely to maintain productivity among geographically dispersed teams. Many of these services are now also available on cloud-based subscription models like Microsoft Office 365, making it more affordable for SMEs to scale up or down depending on what they need. Not needing your entire team to be office-bound at all times also means you can better manage real estate costs.

One of our customers, MYOB, which has a geographically dispersed workforce in Australia and New Zealand, told me the use of video technology has improved the quality of collaboration within their teams. It provides better cues around body language, engagement and ‘presence’ in a meeting.  It also ensures that team members based in locations outside the base or hub of a team still feel included and can actively participate.

See also: The workplace of the Future: What does it look like? How does your business stand to benefit? and Technology-enabled collaboration no longer a ‘nice to have’ in the modern business world.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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