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Creating a perfect technology mix

Why is flexible working such a conundrum for many businesses? They set out with a perfectly reasonable goal, namely to enable their staff to be able to do their jobs no matter where they are or what device they are using, yet a disturbing number of companies end up with the wrong solutions or abandoning the project altogether.

There are two reasons. The first is a failure to define what the company needs. Instead, a one-size-fits-all approach is pushed by lazy vendors who don’t really care what is right for the client. And second, finance departments get cold feet and fail to endorse technology which would really help their firm.

In both cases, there are simple remedies.

The first step is always to establish a clear picture of what the client needs. Head of technology at Olive Communications Spencer Bradshaw says: “The first question is to ask what the firm’s main goals are. They could be improving customer service, improving their company culture or improving profitability over the next 12 months.”

This process then includes a sharp focus on how their employees work. Mr Bradshaw explains: “We split workers into three categories – fixed, flexi and field. The fixed workers tend to spend their time at a desk. They might include receptionists, security staff and contact centre agents. A flexi worker splits their time between the office and other locations, such as customers’ offices or at home, and they’ll spend significant time travelling. And there are field workers, who are out of the office pretty much all the time.

“We talk to firms who have 20 variations of user profiles, which is way too much. They have separate classifications for different departments. Our approach looks for things these workers have in common, such as e-mail, phones, time in the office, and what they need to do their jobs better.”

The segmentation means productivity gains can be analysed more rigorously, too, which introduces the second challenge – how to get finance departments and the board to back flexible working transformations.

If you can show how a salesforce can gain an hour a day for 500 staff, then there’s no question that proposition will be taken seriously

Typically, approval can only be secured if a strong business case can be made. That is where insight into measurable improvements comes in. “We consult with firms and help them understand the benefits. For example, at some firms around a fifth of the office space will be under-utilised because of people working in a different way now. Greater numbers of staff are spending more of their time in formal and informal meetings, and are therefore away from their desk. So use your space differently, or sub-let it, and you’ve increased the payback on your investment,” says Mr Bradshaw.

Other overlooked variables include travel costs, time-saving and the contribution towards environmental goals. Mr Bradshaw emphasises that it is possible to turn these gains into tangible, financially meaningful data, which boards will act on. “If you can show how a salesforce can gain an hour a day for 500 staff, then there’s no question that proposition will be taken seriously,” he says.

With these two hurdles overcome, it will be possible to create an optimised hardware and software strategy for all types of working. This will cover smartphones, fixed lines, applications for collaborative working via e-mail, calendars and documents, messaging, and broadband, mobile, LAN, WAN and wi-fi connectivity.

“This approach is a little different,” Mr Bradshaw concedes. “All too often, our industry just tells customers to buy faster, swankier versions of whatever they are already using. The truth is that every firm is different, and only by taking the time to understand what their workers do and how they want to progress, can you create the perfect technology mix.”

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