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Quo vadis Smarter Working?

Reflections on where we are with Smart Working at Plantronics - and where we should be going

Our venture into Smarter Working was born in the cold winter of 2008 as we were trying to find innovative scenarios that would resurrect our business out of recession, on the basis of less is more (resources in terms of people, cost and capital/expense). We needed a rabbit out of the hat and set out to fundamentally rethink our ways of working.

Smarter Working seemed promising: we had the technology (more or less), the management appetite to experiment with new work practices and a great opportunity to reshape our workspaces to suit current and future business needs! Most importantly we believed we could boost engagement of our talented associates.

It has been a wonderful journey of learning from others, experimenting with pain/joy and ultimately pride and satisfaction.

We can only answer the question 'QUO VADIS?' (where are we heading?) by looking back and assessing the here and now.

What is it?

It started as flexible working (part-time, maternity/paternity), to go beyond the standard 8 to 5 work timing. Soon broadband and mobile data communications allowed working outside the conventional office and so working from home/whilst on the move gained traction.

Technology provided the opportunity to grant freedom to employees to determine time and space of work, as long as objectives were achieved, costs didn’t rise and the environment was respected. The foundation was there for a fresh look at work.

How to do it?

Technology is the key enabler but ultimately the journey to Smarter Working needs overall business leadership. So who takes the lead?

Technology Push has delivered poor adoption as most IT and Communications functions limit themselves to architecture and infrastructure aspects, in many cases not even providing the employees tools and funding.

Workspace initiatives aimed at rationalising square footage and accommodating flexible workers have often been the key driver for change but HR has rarely taken the driver seat … yet they should orchestrate this fundamental change in the way PEOPLE work.

Our learning is that any partial approach will be ineffective. Multidisciplinary projects spanning ITC, WorkSpace and HR; sponsored by a business (unit) or functional leader AND sponsored by top management under coaching of the HR executive is the only way to achieve success.

Work topology

With new degrees of freedom in time and space, a new discipline is required to answer the question: where and when do we work best. As always, the answer is – it depends.

Work Topology research has revealed that the type of information work behavior determines the (ideal) workspace.  This will be different for individual and group work depending of the nature of the tasks: creative, decision making, thinking and (not to forget) refueling. Surprising initial conclusions were that the conventional office actually isn’t good at supporting all these, so plenty of reasons to ‘get out of’ the dated offices.

But we’re all different so we quickly figured out that not only our personal preferences/situations but also our personalities are very diverse.  So this aspect needs to come into play when selecting a portfolio of workspaces during any given period (week or day).

This practice of work topology (often referred to as 'activity-based' workspace design) is still most junior but - when matured - will ultimately provide the key to how we tame the unbridled freedoms we’ve just been blessed with.

Along the way we discovered that the conditions for ‘elsewhere working’ are far from ideal. Once we leave our safe office nests, network access, ergonomic furniture and good work acoustics are hard to find. Tools and guides for that are welcome … we were happy to sponsor Worksnug as the Michelin guide for those working anywhere in between Office and Home.

As we experimented with ‘outside the office’ working, the office occupation started to go down and we felt the need for a fresh workspace approach.

Rather than simply cutting space and going for the usual squeezing of people into spaces, we asked our associates about their workspace satisfaction and were one of the first to embrace the Leesman index, a world-first employee workspace satisfaction survey that gave us the blueprint/briefing for our space needs.

Acoustics came out as a major concern and we were lucky to implement the highly actionable findings Jeremy Myerson’s New Demographics, New Workspaces research which highlighted technology integration and acoustics as the main bugbears in modern open landscaped offices. We literally implemented the recommended Concentration, Communication, Collaboration and Contemplation workspaces with immediate success and post occupation satisfaction shot up.

Our Royal Wootton Bassett Euro HQ office received Awards and accolades and became a mecca for evangelisation of the Smarter Working gospel. Similar projects were implemented at our Amsterdam Contact Center and our new Rhine-based German branch office in Koln.

We’re in pole position for the UK BiFM award (Sept) and the CCA Best Contact Center workplace award (November).

Unified communications and collaboration (UCC)

With dispersed working, it’s essential to know who’s at work and ready to communicate/collaborate. Multimodal communications, integrated around a singular contact list is a must. Interactions now start with Instant Messaging, progress to voice communications across legacy (desktop), mobile and pc phone, with further multiparty conferencing facilities across voice, video and web.

The technology has been around for years and it’s frustrating to see how long it’s taking to get it going. Whereas fast and furious implementations with Skype, Dropbox, tablet and smartphone can be had in a matter of days, IT departments and key telecom players are locked in fear, uncertainty and doubt about (previous generation) infrastructure, jobs and their future.

Impatience is growing with employees as they wonder why it’s taking business half a decade to implement what they’ve been using privately for many/many years. No wonder BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is turning into BYOUC Bring Your Own Unified Communications).

But the UCC symphony was unfinished until the key building blocks are in place:

  • Quality of Service in fixed and mobile networks
  • New communications clients (esp mobile), with good audio endpoints
  • Accurate unified presence, enhanced with contextual intelligence
  • Simplified and high-impact conferencing tools.

Digitisation of information and processes is of course also necessary to allow space-independent work and many companies are turning to cloud-based solutions to make information and workflow processes accessible any place, any time.

Most IT departments though are constantly overloaded due to relentless technology and architecture changes. They are forced to limit themselves to tool selection and business process automation. End-user adoption is thrown over the fence to user departments who are equally un-equipped to introduce the new tools through quality provisioning, training, support, tuning and coaching. A major untapped opportunity! But on the critical path towards consistent adoption …

After all, if the entire organisation is not on board or not capable of using a communication tool, then how can it be of benefit ? Imagine an organization where only part of it uses email!

A new work dynamic

Which brings us to the penultimate matter: the new ‘deal’ between employer and employee.

Plenty has been written about the need for a reboot in mutual trust. Where organisations have a profound belief in those they have seduced into joining their ranks. Where individuals are coached to discover their true professional selves and the careers they aspire to.

It’s the world of Result rather than Presence based work. Where associates are self-motivated, where play becomes work and work turns into play. It requires a belief in Smarter Working, from the democratic, meritocratic leadership all the way to the responsible professional.

It’s a major change and it requires inspired coaching by HR. It’s worrying to see that today’s HR professionals are not standing up to this call for action, and equally concerning that CEO’s are not tasking them with the assignment. After all, this is about smarter working humans, not computers!

The future of work

So it’s great to see that many experiments are already producing results: in reduced space needs, much higher employee engagement, reduced absenteeism and higher customer satisfaction. But it feels that it’s only the happy few who are enjoying it. The contrast between the conventional way of working and the novel work styles is massive. It almost feels like we’re living in a world of haves and have-nots.

So although we can contemplate and anticipate further technology changes, fresh space usage scenarios; the future of work cannot be reached until such time it is embraced by organisation leadership.

Those that don’t will face Facebook petitions to their government departments of labour, which in turn will force flexible working on them as part of ethical work conditions.

Worst case, they may fail to attract talent that will self-select to go work for those companies that embrace smarter working, failing that will join the ever increasing free-lancer community that will have the benefits of career portfolio management.

In summary

Smarter Working: to be ignored at your peril ! Embrace it with passion and pride yourself on changing a much out of date world of work.


Man working in cafe with laptop and headset

September 2012


About the Author

Philip Vanhoutte

Our guest author is Philip Vanhoutte, Senior VP and Managing Director E&A at Plantronics.

He joined Plantronics in September 2003 and is responsible for managing Plantronics business throughout E&A (Europe and Africa).

Philip's management career includes senior roles at Sony Ericsson, MCI WorldCom, and Fujitsu-ICL.

Philip is a passionate advocate for Smart Working, believing strongly in its benefits for both business and society.


Further information about Plantronics

For more information on Plantronics visit: www.plantronics.com

And for more information on the plantronics approach to Smarter Working visit: www.plantronics.com/uk/solutions/smarter-working/

To speak to a Plantronics Consultant, please call +44 (0) 1793 842426 and reference ‘Flexibility’



"Our learning is that any
partial approach
will be ineffective"














"It’s a major change and it requires
inspired coaching by HR ... After all,
this is about smarter working
humans, not computers!"
















"It’s the world of Result rather than
Presence based work. Where associates
are self-motivated, where play becomes work and work turns into play"




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