Three steps to a flexible workplace

The advantages of flexibility are well appreciated so what's stopping more people from reaping the huge benefits of working remotely?


Graph for Three steps to a flexible workplace

source: NBN Co 

Across Australia there is a growing demand for more flexible work arrangements and teleworking, also known as telecommuting or remote working (usually from home). 

With the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the proliferation of mobile devices providing greater access to content anywhere, anytime, telework is predicted to increase significantly.

The government’s goal is to double Australia's level of telework by 2020, so that at least 12 per cent of Australian employees have a telework arrangement with their employers.

According to a recent report from IBIS World A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050’, one in four employees are likely to have some form of teleworking arrangement by the middle of the century. If so, we would have five million employees working from home at least part of the time – taking millions of commuters off the roads.

Flexibility in the workplace can benefit employees, employers and the community as a whole, from increased productivity to improved work life balance. Other benefits include cost savings, increased workforce participation and infrastructure savings.

While private firms of all sizes jump on board the telework bandwagon, the biggest adopters have been small businesses. Office space is an expense many can’t afford, so teams coordinate remotely from houses and coffee shops. A MYOB survey last year revealed that nearly two in three Australian small and medium businesses now have employees who telework to some extent.

However, not everyone is convinced that telework is a good idea. Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer has come under fire for her decision to kill the company’s popular work-from-home policy. She has defended her decision by saying that face-to-face collaboration brings forward greater ideas and leads to the next “big thing.”

Public sector reticence

Closer to home, statistics show that public servants in Australia are far less likely to work from home than other workers, despite a government push to promote telework.  The latest State of the Service Report shows the number of public servants who teleworked even occasionally has been falling dramatically.

So what is the future of telework? What is stopping more people from reaping the huge benefits of working remotely?

Old-fashioned attitudes certainly play a role but the main concerns centre around IT and security, managing teleworkers, communicating effectively and perceived lack of innovation and collaboration. With technological advances and new affordable solutions on the market for enterprises big and small, public or private, these concerns should not become a barrier to telework. The fact is our workforce is becoming more mobile whether we like it or not, and we need to embrace this change.

A successful teleworking policy will blend the access and usability that workers have become used to with the security and control that IT already has in place.

With this in mind, here are three tips to making flexible work a reality in your organisation:

End users hold the trump card

If IT doesn’t provide the right tools or access to effectively perform their jobs, users will resort to resources outside the enterprise. A great example of this duct-tape approach is the proliferation of Dropbox in the enterprise for file sync-and-share. There’s no doubt that Dropbox is easy to use, but this convenience can also leave your enterprise vulnerable. Instead look for a solution that is built specifically for your company.

Safely enable the workforce wherever it is

For many companies, security is the key consideration when they put telework arrangements in place, particularly when it comes to sharing information and files. Increasingly teleworkers prefer to ‘bring their own devices’ (BYOD) and this needs to be done without reducing security.

Proper mobile device management requires a policy-based solution that can control both user- and enterprise-owned devices, automatically change security configurations depending on a user’s role and location, wipe data off lost devices and work with different platforms, all without placing any burden on the end-user. The good news is that technologically speaking mobile security is now a comparatively straightforward issue to address, with solutions like Novell’s ZENworks Endpoint Security Management offering central management of all devices from a single console.

Leverage your existing infrastructure

There are many telework solutions on the market that will work within your existing infrastructure and data security policies which means you don’t need to replace the systems you’ve already built or duplicate efforts. Can you imagine being able to print from your tablet or smartphone to that old laser printer that you’ve had in the office for the last 15 years? Solutions like Novell iPrint allow mobile printing from existing printers such as these. For IT, this means no print jobs in the cloud and the ability to manage mobile and desktop printing in one place, without significant financial outlays.

With the right technology partner, it is possible to keep your employees happy and productive and your data secure, all while working within your existing infrastructure and make teleworking a reality.

Stuart Meyers is the APAC product manager for Novell.