In many respects, 2012 was the year that mobile and home working went mainstream in the UK. The staging of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London gave businesses - not just those based in the capital - the impetus to embrace anywhere working, in a bid to maintain productivity rates, boost employee engagement and reduce costs.
Widespread remote working during the sporting summer helped companies achieve all of these goals to some extent. With fewer City-based employees commuting to work during the late summer, pressure on London's transport network was relieved. Not only did this enable spectators to get to Olympic venues, but it allowed those who did commute to get to work on-time and in good condition.
But with the Olympics an increasingly distant memory, now is the time for businesses to focus on delivering value from remote working going forwards. Many of the organisations to have piloted anywhere working schemes in 2012 deemed them a major success - but is there a danger some will simply revert back to their old routine? As companies look to get themselves lean and ultra-productive, ignoring the potential of anywhere working should not be an option.
Anywhere working offers great value to O2
Telecoms firm O2 was one of the companies to successfully pilot anywhere working during summer 2012, with thousands of the firm's staff staying at home for parts of July and August. As the firm's business director Ben Dowd explained, the scheme was a major triumph - both for staff and the company as a whole.
He claimed that through "a single massive moment of reappraisal" that effectively shocks the business into action, firms can significantly alter their flexible working culture. "Last year O2 took this approach with its flexible working pilot and one year on, more than one-third of employees have actively changed their work behaviour," he stated.
Mr Dowd pointed to increased savings and improved efficiencies, noting that in one month alone, O2 staff saved 100,000 miles of commuting, 30 tonnes of CO2, and £20,000 in fuel. At the same time, productivity rates when flexi-working doubled, helping to improve the bottom line.
And in his view, this will have a lasting legacy - at his own firm at least. "Some 85 per cent of O2 employees say they will keep flexi-working and 40 per cent more employees now flexi-work more than once a week," he noted.
"The changes we’ve seen in our own workforce since our pilot speak for themselves," Mr Dowd stated. "With the right mix of technology, policy and education, Britain’s workforce can embrace the opportunities that flexible working can bring in helping them shape their own definition of the 9 to 5."
Support needed for remote workers
But if employees are to take full advantage of anywhere working opportunities, they need strong management and the support of the employers. Company leaders must not only accept remote working as a viable alternative to being in the office, but actively encourage it, Mr Dowd suggested.
"Businesses must sit up and take notice of this critical evolution in employee behaviour and create a business culture equipped to support it," he stated. "To create a truly flexible working culture, actions speak louder than words."
Providing employees with the technology workers needed to work effectively when away from the office is part of this process. The development of cloud-based productivity solutions can be of real assistance in this regard, enabling workers to access important files, documents, applications and software regardless of location.
Workers are increasingly comfortable using mobile devices - or their home broadband connections - to carry out employment tasks, and businesses can take advantage of this. Investing in productivity solutions such as Office 365 - which bring the functionality of an office-based PC or laptop to mobile users - may be a great starting point.
The future for anywhere working
Businesses need to be bold - putting new policies and processes in place to support remote working, rather than creating obstacles to progress. Companies benefited from anywhere working when the Olympics forced them to consider the alternatives to 9-to-5, office-based work, but do they have the vision to carry this forwards?
Reports emerged this week suggesting that Yahoo is scrapping remote working, with all staff required to relocate to the office by June 2013. A leaked memo from the company claimed that "speed and quality" of work were being sacrificed by allowing people to choose their location for work - yet this sits at odds with the reports from many other firms, where remote working has offered clear value.
O2's Mr Dowd believes Yahoo will be missing out on "huge benefits" by failing to embrace a flexible working culture. "Three quarters of people say they are most productive when they can change when and where they work," he noted. "One in ten even rate flexi-working as a more important benefit than their holiday allowance and salary." Mr Dowd said it is not about sacrificing face time with co-workers, but empowering staff with the tools required to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Posted by Alex Boardman