Keeping flexible working real in a virtual world

Today saw an excellent event at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art exploring the ins and outs of flexible working. Some great speakers were brought together by the team at Newcastle’s ForFusion to expose the technical, practical, and personal challenges and opportunities faced by 21st Century businesses and their Millennial employees.

Speakers tackled the technical: Paessler’s network monitoring tools change the landscape by tracking the activity of anything you can name, as long as it can be given a digital heartbeat; deals with the potential security exposure that increasingly threatens internet protocol communications. We learned about the megatrends which impact Microsoft’s development cycles – Cloud, Mobility, Social, and Big Data – and the Cisco and ForFusion digital tools which permit effective flexible working.

React to a changing world

Stuart Birkett of The Journal / NCJ Media reflected on the slow reaction of print media to the rise of internet communication. Although the company has successfully turned the traditional model on its head, it took time to realise that people really would buy houses and cars on the internet, use online job sites, and consume news directly from social media. We’ve all watched the changes to news services, but are we keeping up with the changes in how our own services are consumed? As Microsoft’s James Hathaway reminded us, it’s perfectly possible to book a two-week holiday, at the most competitive rates, with all the frills from airport parking to car hire to the best restaurants and things to do, without once interacting with a human being. Where does the sales cycle start? When and where are the decisions made? If your business isn’t visible at the very start of the process there is no catching up. Embracing change, and learning to handle the tools and timetables of the modern trade, is the only way forward.

Keep it real with cutting-edge tools

There was a clear message running through the reactions of the assembled audience: the technical landscape is only a part of the whole flexible working scene. People still need structure, boundaries (both in their working life and around their personal life), and a sense of belonging. Developing any strategy with only the technical solution in mind is not going to benefit anyone! This resonates strongly with us here at Ambix, where the user’s experience and their ability to develop relationships both online and in the real world are at the core of the design and structure of the platform.

TechNorth‘s Paul Lancaster impressed with the array of apps that enable him to work on the move, building and engaging northern tech businesses and key players across the whole area from Manchester to Hull and up to Tyneside. The variety of tools to do the job in hand is a testament to the opportunities of the virtual world, but something else stood out: the tools which enable Paul and his team to engage with eachother and with real people. Office banter on WhatsApp; teamworking on Slack; making the team’s active reach across the region easily accessible to followers on Swarm: all this brings a human dimension to flexible working which is essential for success.

Flexible working: golden rules

Ross Smith, Director of Policy for the North East Chamber of Commerce, reminded us all that the North East has the potential to kick-start the whole UK economy. The way that the region’s businesses form a strong community and share best practice improves productivity; best practice involves a flexible workforce. Whether it’s a case of shift working in the service sector to support customers in other time zones across the world, or borrowing the manufacturing ethos that resources can be used for extended hours, we have the chance to show the rest of the country how it’s done.

Ready to take up the challenge? Make sure that your business benefits and your workforce is motivated by having:

  • Managers who understand flexible working!
  • KPIs and clear objectives for flexible workers, to create structure and trust on both sides
  • Involve everyone in the strategy so they can choose their preferred working methods and recognise the merit in other choices
  • Set down proper rules in contracts of employment, so that no grey areas creep in.

It’s easy to be carried away with the tools and gadgets of the digital age, but flexible working relies on people. Embrace new opportunities – but keep it real.

With thanks to ForFusion

Kate Baucherel