Building your communications strategy around flexible working
In the first of a series of guest blogs, Spencer Bradshaw, Head of Advanced Applications and Solution Architects, EMEA at ShoreTel, explores how changes in employee working practices impacts an organisation’s communications strategy.
The days when all employees worked under a single roof are far less common as multi-site, home-based and mobile working become more prevalent. In fact, across many industries, a nine to five Monday to Friday working week is fast disappearing, as the notion of “work is something you do, not a location” becomes a common ethos.
The Office of National Statistics has recently published data that suggests there were over 4.2 million home workers in the UK in 2014, equating to 13.9% of the total working population. Of these, 73.4% were occupied in higher skilled roles.
One key factor which is driving this trend are the recent changes to employment legislation allowing employees to request flexible working provisions. Employers must give each request proper consideration or face a potential employment tribunal. Some business leaders are adopting strategies that allow staff to manage their own workloads and schedules – even going as far as allowing unlimited holiday leave.
As employers strive to recruit and retain the best talent, they face increasing pressure to provide the tools and applications that allow employees to work productively from any location. The result is that employers must work with their employees to design and enable flexible working practices that are mutually beneficial.
The importance of presence
Employers are right to be concerned about how these changes might impact their business operations and staff productivity. How can an employee working from their kitchen table at home be as productive as they would be in the office?
The answer is to extend line-of-business applications beyond the company firewall, using technology to replicate the office experience from any location. More than simply building VPN and remote access solutions, employers need to facilitate simple and seamless connection to the company’s communications platform using the tools, apps and processes that help employees to be productive.
Unified communications (UC) can help employees maintain a consistent presence, regardless of time or location. Extending phone systems in this way allows remote employees to be contacted on their internal extension or other devices, even when they are out of the office. It also allows them to remain part of internal hunt groups, keeping them connected via the UC platform and apps with which they are already familiar, in order to maintain professional communications with colleagues and customers at all times.
Remote employees have access to the corporate directory, company voicemail and other resources at all times and the use of smartphone apps keep people connected wherever they are, routing calls to their desktop phone and mobile handset simultaneously.
Adopting this approach delivers a more unified and easily managed communications infrastructure while also delivering considerable cost savings, by ensuring work-related calls are routed through the corporate call plan, rather than disparate mobile phone contracts.
Depending on the deployment, companies can benefit from a Cloud-based platform that reduces ongoing hardware management and maintenance. The deployment of new extensions can be as simple as plugging in an additional VoIP handset and mobile apps can also be used to apply urgent changes to UC configurations when out of the office. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) can be used to simplify the routing of incoming customer calls or play recorded messages to help callers resolve common issues themselves.
A permanent solution to temporary problems
Perversely, many businesses may find that a lack of flexible working provisions comes back to bite them in the colder months. A run of bad winters over previous years are estimated to have cost the UK economy £11 billion annually due to lost productivity. Research from eSure Insurance stated that, “43% of staff have been stranded at home due to ice and snow causing transport problems.” With the possibility of almost half of all employees unable to make it to “work”, UC offers much more than flexible working for a select few employees.
Beyond mobile working
Utilising UC offers employers an opportunity to extend the full power of the communications platform to employees regardless of their location, working hours or role, empowering them with the tools they need to be fully productive – and in the manner they are most comfortable with.
Seamless communication and the exchange of rich information across physical boundaries are vital to future success. Get this right and businesses will be able to leverage the benefits that improved collaboration and customer contact deliver by empowering an increasingly mobile workforce to provide a consistently superior experience – one that actively engages employees, customers and reinforces value.
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