If you add together all the trends and predictions associated with the way we’ll work tomorrow, you’ll realise that one of the trends,flexible working hours are here today, to stay!  But what does flexible working hours mean to you?

For me, flexible working hours means clever working. It enables me to control more of my time. This means working how and where I need to, and being able to achieve the best work/life balance. I gain time and choices I previously didn’t have by flexing the edges of my working week around business deadlines and personal plans. I also now choose to work in environments that stimulate me to complete my work. I’m able to be in two places at the same time, going to work, whilst simultaneously downloading a map for tonight’s gig.

Today, we’re at a crossroads.  The notion of flexible working hours has been around for more than 20 years and certainly the technology to support it has been around for more than ten years.  Yet it’s always been optional to embrace flexible working and the risks of not practising it have been low to businesses.  However, now the next generation of web-centric individuals have hit the workplace, the technology infrastructure is robust, competitiveness in the marketplace has driven prices down and our need to benefit from flexible working hours as individuals is the strongest it has ever been.  The question is: can you or your business survive without embracing this work practice?

Today, I’m going to examine the impact of Generation Y and advances in technology on flexible working uptake.

Generation Y are now today’s job candidates in all markets. They’ve long been the staple diet of Saturday assistants in your local supermarket, but tomorrow, whether you’re in IT, construction, finance or logistics, you’ll more than likely find that one of them is your colleague or employee.  These guys and girls know you can play World of Warcraft against someone you’ve never met, living in Australia, without leaving the house.  Their hobbies and interests are expensive, the hours which they enjoy them created around an online community.  To meet their friends and practice these hobbies, they need to be where the online community is, and this is not fixed, either in time or location; it happens over the internet.

They won’t want to spend their disposable income on a daily commute, or be tied to a desk.  If you want the best out of the next generation of workers, you’re going to have to put flexibility at the top of the list. The risks of not doing this are high.  Increased staff turnover, poorly motivated staff and the long-term risk of your business failing altogether.

But let’s look on the positive side. The technology you need to support working remotely is better and more affordable than it’s ever been. Economies of scale mean suppliers and network providers are now offering you the best deals on the supporting technology and the choice and support in selecting it is greater than ever.

When we’re talking about flexible working technology, we’re normally referring to mobile communications or fixed broadband.

If we take mobile communications, this gives you flexibility of location, flexibility in the hours of work and means you are no longer fixed to a single style of working. I can remember the market emerging ten years ago when I was a product manager at Toshiba. The hardware was in its infancy and the networks were yet to launch suitable speeds. 3G has changed all that. The UK now has a proliferation of heavy weight networks such as Orange and T-Mobile and well over ten big brands from Tesco to BT offering businesses mobile communications. This choice and strength of competition is so high, it is unlikely to drive prices down further without someone going out of business.

My suggestion is choose well. Make choices around your flexible working needs, rather than on price alone.  Whether it’s a mobile phone or a data dongle to access email on the move, the services that you’ll use to keep your business functioning are only as strong as the network coverage you pick, the quality of account management that matches your needs or the customer services that support you.  A data dongle from Orange giving you mobile broadband access might set you back £15 per month but running it with a Huddle account too could free up valuable time for both you and your staff ensuring they’re accessible when needed, from wherever  they are located.

Alternatively, a broadband connection at home can extend the office reach along with the use of cloud computing services such as hosted email or Huddle. Employees gain real flexibility around their lifestyles and businesses can benefit from retaining highly-motivated team members who gain additional benefits such as flexible working hours at no additional cost to your business. You could even turn this into a business advantage yourself by deploying longer online customer service hours as your customers want flexibility as much as your employees.

More tips will follow next week…

Colin White

SME Proposition Manager at Everything Everywhere

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