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
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
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.
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
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
a world-first employee workspace satisfaction survey
that gave us the blueprint/briefing for our space
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
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
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
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
But the UCC symphony was unfinished until the key
building blocks are in place:
- Quality of Service in fixed and mobile
- New communications clients (esp mobile),
with good audio endpoints
- Accurate unified presence, enhanced with
- Simplified and high-impact conferencing
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
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.
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.