Depending on who you ask, flexible working is either the most important trend in today’s workplaces or an overhyped fad. In some cases, even the best-intentioned program can lead to stalled projects, impaired collaboration, or outright slacking. On the other hand, flexible work hours and locations can improve productivity and job satisfaction, build morale and engagement, and make new opportunities available to people who are unable to commit to a more strict work arrangement.
Industry debates aside, there’s one thing that’s beyond dispute: flexible working is a reality, and it’s reshaping both workplaces and work relationships. Citrix teamed up with Wakefield Research on a recent survey about the Future of Work, and it showed that more than two-thirds (69 percent) of office professionals report that employees in their workplace regularly work remotely. And 44 percent of office professionals have never met some of their co-workers in-person.
While two-thirds of office professionals work at a traditional office location, more than one in five (21 percent) blend environments by working both in an office and somewhere else, such as at home or a communal workspace. And 14 percent exclusively work somewhere other than a traditional office location.
Some skeptics have pointed to the news that IBM recently pulled back its flexible working program—though in reality, the change only applied to about two percent of its employees worldwide. Today, there are clear benefits for both flexible workers and the organizations that employ them. So, how do you make sure your flexible working program is successful? Here’s what I’ve learned about flexible working that works:
Flexible work depends on flexible tools
A compromised work experience would make remote work tough. People can’t be as productive if they can’t work the same way they would in the office. This is likely why, according to the Citrix-Wakefield study, 57 percent of office professionals at companies with a flexible work environment are currently using cloud-based apps. Employees understand how important this is; a full 80 percent of office professionals agree that in five years, businesses with a flexible work environment will not be competitive without using cloud-based apps.
But cloud-based apps don’t automatically boost productivity, and, in some cases, they can decrease productivity. Several companies offer too many cloud-based apps, making their people log into different sites, using different identities and passwords. The result is lost productivity, security lapses, and calls to the IT helpdesk. Simply put, a random collection of cloud-based apps that require logging into multiple services – what we call Cloud Sprawl – can actually make work harder, so it’s important to provide these apps and services in a unified digital workspace.
And these days, it’s crucial that companies make security a priority. Being secure begins with educating everyone at your company about the importance of security and how to use new-found flexibility safely. Create clear guidelines to help employees stay safe as they exercise their freedom to work outside of the office.
Then, when implementing security into your work applications and tools, make sure the experience is seamless for your people. At Citrix, we provide everything people need in one digital workspace, with contextual security and a high-quality user experience, to make work intuitive and stress-free, wherever it happens.
Nothing beats face-to face-interactions
This is something I feel particularly strongly about. In fact, it was the topic of my graduate thesis and, in my experience, it’s a crucial component of building strong work relationships. Many people can get more done when they’re deeply focused in an individual work session, far away from the break room chatter and drop-ins that can easily kill a morning’s productivity.
But at the same time, these personal interactions are highly valuable for building collaborative relationships, fostering teamwork, and sparking new ideas. There’s just no substitute for the power of connecting in person, and it’s what enables remote relationships to work well.
Flexible work and teamwork can go hand-in-hand
According to the Citrix-Wakefield study, 80 percent of employees currently collaborate in person, compared with 20 percent who collaborate via web-based apps and platforms. In part, this may reflect the current comfort level with the quality of virtual collaboration tools available; it can be hard to relate to a disembodied voice, email, or Slack message when you haven’t spent time with the person behind it. But, as collaboration tools grow more effective, distance becomes less of a factor (as long as we get some face-to-face time with our colleagues). In your organization, understand the importance of feeling part of a team, and lean into it to make sure people are really connecting in the right ways.
Company culture can inspire self-management
There are plenty of ways to keep remote workers productive, from training programs to time-tracking tools, but one of the most important mechanisms is culture. When the boss can’t look over an employee’s shoulder, that accountability has to come from the employee—he or she has to care as much about their own productivity and performance as their boss does.
The culture at Citrix is designed around our core values—Integrity, Respect, Curiosity, Courage and Unity—which calls on every team member to do their best possible work for their team, the business and their career. We empower people to take control of their contributions, we support them in the risks they take, and we make trust the cornerstone of every relationship in the organization. And that has to apply wherever people work—at home or in the office.
Employees know best
Sometimes, the best solution is to let the employee have the freedom to decide whether flexible working is right for them. Some people yearn to work remotely and they thrive given the opportunity. Others say they could never do it—and if that’s their instinct, they’re probably right.
For example, the traditional office environment that one employee finds constricting might provide valuable structure for another. Or one person might have an amazing home office setup, while another has two needy dogs and a construction site across the street.
But, as employees and their managers agree upon what is right for them, there’s one key factor—ensuring productivity and results. We have to trust our people but we also need to set measureable goals and identify clear deliverables that will make sure the employee is contributing to their team and to the business.
At the end of the day, flexible working is a fairly broad term that can apply to any number of programs with widely varying thought and effectiveness. IBM may have found it ineffective for a small slice of its workers, but the experience can be different for every company and every employee. When you get it right, everybody wins, and so does your organization.