4th March 2016
There was a time when people were employed for a specific role, with a specific list of tasks that they’d need to carry out. Jobs didn’t necessarily offer, or require, a significant amount of flexibility. Along with a limited need for flexibility came a very strict hierarchy, with every employee having a clear position within the company. The prevailing thought was that rules and boundaries maximised employee productivity. Decades later, research started to show that employee productivity could be further improved by increasing satisfaction and motivation, adding an element of challenge and development to a job.
As times change, employees are required to have much more flexibility. A job title could be little more than a line on a CV, as people develop a broader range of skills and become more adaptable in the workplace. Increasingly, employees are providing support in parts of the business that they might not previously have connected with. Arguably this allows each employee to be more ‘human’ in the employment setting, using their interests and skills beyond their job role to further their impact on the workplace.
A behind-the-scenes worker might be communicating directly with customers, to cut out the risk of changing messages as information is passed along the line. Another employee might have a hobby or skill that they’ve been developing outside work, with that skill becoming useful for the business. On top of all of these changes, new technologies can sometimes reduce the amount of specialist knowledge that’s needed to adapt to a new project (along with improving communication within the business and beyond it).
How are employees changing?
We live in a more connected and social world. Tight knit communities are becoming less common, whilst a bigger network of communication is opening up. We’re constantly being bombarded with messages about how we don’t have to settle for anything less than perfection, how we can change the world and make a difference, how we can have everything. As a result, attitudes are starting to change.
Employees are now less comfortable with being on the bottom rung of the ladder, bossed around and told what to do. It’s definitely important that employees have some appreciation for authority, but managers and business owners can embrace this attitude and can benefit from new ideas, increasing ambitions and higher levels of expertise.
Is it time to get ‘smart’?
‘Smart working’ might sound like the latest fad, but research shows that it’s a method that can increase efficiency in the workplace.
Smart working is a technique that gives greater autonomy to employees, expecting more flexibility and encouraging more collaboration in the workplace. As well as changing the way employees work, it’s also about changing the environments that they work in.
Ultimately, smart working for one company will not be the same as smart working for another. The method requires versatility, with a unique structure and approach designed by each company, taking into account the requirements of the business and the personalities of staff members.
Research suggests that we’re at a turning point. More and more companies are discovering that the old fashioned way of working is no longer the most effective. Embracing the age of smart working requires managers to put increasing levels of trust in their employees, to create a stronger sense of equality and also to provide the technologies and freedoms that will lead to improved output.
What might come under the umbrella of ‘smart working’?
The words ‘smart working’ convey more of an attitude than a specific approach. However, there are some commonly implemented changes that can be covered by the term.
One of the biggest changes is an increased focus on work life balance.
Working lives are encroaching more and more on personal lives, due to modern technologies and the requirements of a 24/7 working world. Many employees are no longer happy with how much of an impact their job is having on what once would have been classed as ‘free time’. An increasing number of employers are addressing this.
It’s widely accepted that we can’t go back to a time when work was work and home was home, with the two aspects rarely colliding. Instead, employers and employees have to work together to successfully blend the two. There are benefits for both parties, if it’s done right. Employees feel more valued and retain a sense of ‘self’ beyond the workplace, whilst employers can encourage more commitment to the business along with increasing productivity. Changes to improve the work life balance might include:
– more flexible working hours
– the option to work from home
– on-site gym and fitness facilities
– meals for employees
– on-site childcare
– options for longer and more equal maternity and paternity leave
– on-site entertainment
– the option for employees to decorate their own workspace
– family days and events to bring companies, employees and their families together
There is an argument that an employee could choose to spend more time working if they felt that their spare time was usually respected. Whilst the traditional working day becomes shorter and more flexible, an increasing number of employees are working longer hours by being available from home or by having a longer lunch break (perhaps to visit the on-site gym) and choosing to stay later to make up the hours.
Smart working is also about attitudes in the workplace being focused more on autonomy and self-management, as well as on-the-go working. With a lower level of micromanagement, employee attainment needs to be judged more on large goals being met and less on how or when a specific job or project is completed.
How else can smart working help?
In times gone by, new employees usually only came from the local area. They needed to be able to get to the office every day. Sometimes, people relocated for work. Now, those involved in recruiting aren’t limited by geographical distance – employees can come from all over the world and need not ever step into the company headquarters. This, in essence, provides limitless access to the skills that are required to maximise output.
Of course, effective HR management software is essential as more flexibility and freedom is offered. It may be harder to keep track of employee performance, working hours and targets, which is why it’s important to use technology not just for working but also for keeping track of workers.