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How to maintain productivity and engagement in the workplace

07 Feb 2018

Article by Michael Chetner, Head of ANZ at Zoom

For a growing number of employees, the idea of the daily commute to the traditional-style, ‘9 to 5’ office is quickly becoming an antiquated notion. 

In fact, according to the latest ABS census data, 1.3 million Australians are choosing to work from home to take advantage of more flexible working arrangements. 

As a result, many businesses are increasingly adopting remote working policies enabling their staff access to ‘virtual environments’, whenever and wherever they are. 

That is not to say there hasn’t been some pushback against the move towards remote working, with some organisations arguing it is counter to producing and enabling collaborative environments in which to work. 

Some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Yahoo and Aetna, have brought their workforces back into the office, believing it helps to create greater team synergy and employee productivity. 

At the same time, other growing and established companies are building entirely or partially remote workforces – some of the world’s biggest tech corporations, including Dell and Apple, have set the trend by instituting telecommuting options for workers.

In fact, back in 2016 Dell predicted that 25% of its employees were working from home and was aiming for that figure to double by 2020.

The benefits for the business include savings of roughly US $12 million a year in real estate costs, a reduced carbon footprint and a culture that nurtures productivity alongside work/ life balance.

This, in turn, has allowed them to hire the most talented employees regardless of location.

A mistake many businesses make is the belief that a remote workplace, and a stationed office, are binary opposites. 

This shouldn’t be the thinking.

Instead, a better approach is to look at options for businesses that allow for a combination of both, meaning employees can work in and out of the office at their convenience and manager discretion. 

A general shift in employee attitudes has seen many looking for flexible work environments that allow them to work on the go, in and out of business hours, and away from the office. 

No longer is working from home considered a perk, nor should it be. 

Organisations that allow their staff increased flexibility and the ability to log in away from the office are now the norm, and doing so has shown to increase workplace satisfaction.

In fact, according to research from Morgan McKinley, 97% of professionals in Australia believe the option to work flexibly has a positive impact on their productivity. 

However, in order to support remote working initiatives, organisations must have the right tools in place.

Recent research from Deloitte reveals the majority (77%) of companies do not believe that email is a viable tool for effective communication. Furthermore, only 14% of companies believe that their internal processes for decision-making and collaboration are working well.

Communication is at the core of all that we do, as individuals and as a group, and it is essential to keeping productivity and collaboration up even when working remotely.

Video conferencing, instant messaging and collaborative cloud-based work environments (like Slack, Dropbox and Google Drive) allow colleagues to cooperate effortlessly, even if they are miles apart.

By ensuring both the technological and cultural infrastructures are in place to support more flexible ways of working, organisations are setting their employees up to work more efficiently. Companies must have the most up-to-date cloud-based and mobile technologies available to employees to ensure effortless sharing of information.

Companies should also work to develop the right technological infrastructure to enable clear connectivity, with flawless audio and video capabilities.

For Australian businesses, in particular, this means not being weighed down by the continuous connectivity and bandwidth issues they face. Instead, organisations must demand more from the technologies they deploy – they should be fast, usable and the companies behind them need to put quality of service first.  

In addition to increased productivity and lower operating costs (even against the odds), technology can also enhance the office culture, particularly when offices and people are widely distributed.

Implementing social programs, such as virtual water coolers (an always-on video that employees can jump in and out of for quick hellos and questions), or even virtual roulette (weekly meetings where remote team members can connect and get to know each other) can build on team morale and encourage constant communication for teams. 

Striking a balance between creating a positive workplace culture that fosters collaboration and teamwork, while also allowing your employees the flexibility to work away from the office, is key.

Businesses that allow technology to innovate how, when, and where people work, will reap the benefits that a remote workforce can provide.

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