Planet First’s head of Partnerships Sarah Gillett examines the benefits and challenges of ‘Smartworking’ and asks what does it have to do with sustainability?

smartworking

Last month, I attended a summit on so-called ‘Smartworking’. It was entitled ‘Stepping up to the workplace diversity challenge’. It was hosted by Quora, a consulting firm that’s been around for 14 years. It’s mission is to respond to the changing nature of work and avoid ‘solving the wrong problem really well’.

The summit wasn’t themed, but our six speakers did address similar topics – namely working not in ‘the’ office. Or, at least, not all the time.

This is something we, at Planet First, have been trialling for over a year now, so I was keen to hear from others on the subject.

So what is Smartworking?

Smartworking means different things to different people. Flexible working is not simply working from home, but having the option to work in different places at different times. Ostensibly, to be trusted to work from any alternative location of your choice … and trust is a hugely important factor in today’s rapidly changing workplace. It can be working as a consultant for a business, instead of an employee, or it can be working hours that suit you instead of nine to five, offering a variable start and finish time to suite working parents and to allow people to travel more comfortably at off-peak times.

There are obvious social, environmental and economical impacts to Smartworking. For one, it can reduce carbon emissions from the office, and emissions from business travel. As mentioned above, it can also have social benefits, alleviating some of the problems faced by working parents, for example, or from an employee engagement angle help employee retention and talent recruitment. From an economic angle, Smartworking can be good for productivity, too. A recent survey by Regus of 44,000 workers globally found that 76% of respondents said they worked more productively when able to work flexibly.

Benefits include:

  • Increased productivity

  • Improved lifestyle, health, well-being and happiness

  • Diversity – employing more females at senior level

  • Reduced operational costs (a desk in London costs more than a person!)

  • Better, and more diverse working environments to suit your style and changing work needs

  • Reduced commuting (people’s most miserable time of the day).

Challenges include:

  • Trust – without this it will not work. You have to trust your people to work when they say they will, or to work to get the job done, whenever that may be

  • Accountability – you have to be comfortable that your employees are accountable for their work and will deliver what is required in an agreed timeline

  • Management – flexible working exposes poor managers for instance, but managers with tools and processes can usually adapt

  • Communications – it can be harder to work as a team, and bounce ideas around. Set up a good virtual meeting space, like google hangouts, and use it

  • Having the structure and support in place to make flexible working actually work

  • Time lost by employees ‘commuting’ during the working day (offset by employees able to start work earlier or end later when not commuting).

All the speakers at Smartworking Summit agreed that it does not work for some businesses and to make this model effective you need to work at it, and work hard. Systems and processes need to be well established, and may need to change to adapt to the new situation. One key thing to remember is that Leadership has to fully support the change, and seen to be supporting it, as with all ventures.

Smartworking summits bring together C-level delegates for a day of frank talking and candid exchange of ideas within Chatham House Rules. They are ‘unplugged’ – powerpoints are not invited to the party. Find out more at Quora Consulting.

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