Are we really still debating the case for flexible working? Surely the question now is ‘how’, not ‘why’.

We recently took part in Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Week, hosting an Open Door event at our headquarters in Slough. The theme was ‘Sustainable business, sustainable people’ and we explored how flexible working is supporting our sustainability policy.

Although we presented plenty of facts and figures about the business benefits of flexible working, it was clear from the tone of the debate that the pressing question now is how you make it work, rather than whether or not it’s worth doing.

The same was true of our recent Blue Door discussion around flexible working. Both events were well attended – a clear sign that the issue is high on the agenda – and delegates were keen to find out what we had learned from our own programme.

Flexible culture

The main message is that the commitment has to come from the top. It’s true both of flexible working and sustainability – the two are closely linked anyway – and it’s the only way to drive the cultural change needed to get the full benefit of a new way of working.

Often, it’s line managers who can be uncomfortable with the idea of their people working away from their desks. But if the senior management team are setting the example, then everyone can be more confident with the idea that out of sight does not mean out of mind.

We’ve found that Microsoft Lync is an invaluable collaboration tool for people working remotely. Actually, it’s pretty useful even if you’re in the office. We use it a lot for exchanging files and sharing screens for presentations. The instant messaging function is a great way to get a quick answer to a simple question, without disrupting people’s workflows too much. And the voice and video calling function can save time and money, by routing calls across internal data networks, rather than across public phone networks.

Business social networking

Then there’s that intangible but crucial thing, the corridor or kitchen conversation. Some people are concerned that working flexibly takes away those chance meetings that can oil the workings of the organisation, and allow some safe venting of frustrations.

In our case, the Yammer social networking tool goes a long way to overcoming that problem. Lync helps too. In fact, some of our team have found that Yammer connects them with useful people that they might never meet in a normal working day, not least because they work at a different site. And working flexibly doesn’t mean you’re never in the office, so there’s still plenty of opportunity for random meetings.

Benefits of flexible working

So the essential tools for flexible working are readily available. What you need is the will to make it work, which has to come from the top. And if the benefits of higher productivity, lower carbon footprint and retention and attraction of key talent don’t resonate with the people with their hands on the tiller, then the cost savings and competitive advantage might just tip the balance.

To find out more about our ideas on flexible working and sustainability, get in touch with Matt Worth on 01235 433 507, or visit our website.

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