Flexible working policies have become essential to attract the best talent. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of full-time employees already work flexibly in some way and 87 per cent of all full-time employees say they want to. But while advances in technology have enabled employees to embrace a flexible approach – what is the impact on productivity, efficiency and collaboration?
Employee Desire versus Corporate Performance
Offices have changed radically over the past two decades yet there appears to be something of a disconnect between employee perception and corporate reality. While growing numbers of individuals insist the office is becoming less and less productive – only 7 per cent of professionals cited their office as the best location for tackling work-related projects according to a recent FlexJobs survey – organisations are concerned about employees’ ability to be efficient and effective when working at arm’s length from the rest of the team.
Certainly cloud based tools such as Office 365 ensure that employees have continuous access to information irrespective of location; similarly, video conferencing tools like Skype for Business and Google Hangouts enable the face to face communication that is key to enabling team collaboration irrespective of location.
But how can organisations ensure teams work effectively together? How can a company create a strong team dynamic? While in an office it is easy for a manager to spot an individual struggling with a specific problem, such issues can be hidden for days, even weeks, if an individual does not feel able to reach out remotely.
So how can companies bridge the gap between employee desire for flexibility and corporate imperative for efficiency?
A number of solutions are being developed to support the reconsidered workplace, many leveraging the compelling visualisation technology offered by augmented reality (AR). The Bit Planner app, for example, is a physical scheduling tool – in this case using Lego bricks – that can be used collaboratively in the office to plan rotas, projects and development schedules.
Once agreed and the bricks have been moved to the right location, as soon as the app is hovered in front of the board, Bit Planner automatically updates everyone’s digital calendars. This approach combines the value of effective, face to face collaboration within an office environment with the ease and efficiency of immediate digital information sharing for remote users.
While AR is used already to a degree within the Bit Planner app because of the way the calendar is visualised, looking ahead to the future AR will be integrated to enable holographic visualisations of meeting attendees. Creating a 3D representation of team members in the room is incredibly exciting, as is a technology that can electrify the air to create a virtual object that can be both seen and felt.
This physical representation can provide a tangibility of co-workers that is missing today, even with high quality video conferencing, and one that should overcome the communication and inefficiency problems that can occur as a result of fragmented working practices.
And this is key: a desk-less model should meet employees’ diverse flexible desires – whether based around the corner or on the other side of the world – but it should never create distance or barriers between employees, teams and management.
Efficiency can be rapidly reduced if employees are unhappy or unsupported – and it is the use of innovative apps and AR that will be key to creating a true connection between remote team members and enabling the colleague co-existence and co-operation that will always underpin a successful business environment.
Nick Thompson is managing director at DCSL Software