Enabling New Ways of Work (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore)
31 December 2012
As businesses look to increase productivity whether through automation, technology, upgrading staff competencies or branding, there is also a need to look into new approaches of work. Companies who are at the forefront of enabling employees to work smarter, save time and get things done more effectively, implement a variety of dynamic, collaborative and connected ways of working.
The New Ways of Work encompasses the variety of approaches from office-based work to home-based work, integrating flexible physical workspaces and enabling technologies. When companies get creative in implementing flexibility in the workplace, a whole range of structured approaches to work can happen. They can include:
Flexible workspace arrangements which could include hotdesking, collaboration corners, and meeting rooms with video conferencing facilities.
Home-based work or homeworking where one works primarily from home, occasionally travelling back to the office when the need arises.
Working at customer sites to working from permanent off-site offices (e.g. third-party operated sites or at customers’ site). A new approach in Singapore is the setup of professional office support such as Smart Work Centres (SWCs) which provide flexible workspaces that companies can leverage as extensions of their office.
Flexible work hours which includes staggered work hours.
Part-time work and compressed work week.
As more companies implement flexibility in the workplace, “work” is no longer bounded by co-worker proximity, face-time or time zone. To enable employees to work effectively, there is a need to explore these New Ways of Work. Implementation of these new work approaches requires the adoption of new processes, structures, resources and management practices and technology.
However, the benefits of these work approaches may not be fully achieved when there has been a failure to prepare both those who will be directly or indirectly impacted and those who will be supervising the employees. Beyond preparing the infrastructure (i.e. tools, equipment and technical knowledge), there is a need for employers to prepare staff on the “New Way of Work” and “How To Manage Staff On The New Way Of Work”.
The traditional modes and mindset of managing our workforce require change – what are the new rules of engagement? How do we manage staff who are not in the office? How do we know if they are really working?
Achieving Long Term Sustainability of the New Way of Work
Preparing staff on the new work arrangements ensures a smoother transition and a higher probability of success. Especially when implementing any new initiative or programme, early small successes will contribute to long-term sustainability. Deploying a Change Management Strategy and Plan should be part of your company’s efforts to make the Mobile Work Programme a success. The critical elements of the Change Management Plan would include the following:
1. Articulate Business Case And Desired Outcomes
Be Clear and Specific of the desired outcomes of the new work arrangement. We need to define “Who is affected”, “What’s in it for Company” What’s in it for Me? Clarity enables us to better communicate our objectives to ensure buy-in. It must be a win-win for employers and employees. Common business outcomes include enhanced productivity, reduced business office costs, greater staff motivation and staff retention. For staff, it could be less travel time, cost savings and greater flexibility.
2. Set up Implementation Team & Engage Staff in the Design of the New Way of Work
As part of the “design phase”, it is imperative to engage staff, especially those who are going to be directly impacted and their supervisors. The earlier we understand their concerns, the earlier we address them. E.g. if in the New Way of Work management staff will no longer have rooms and will be hotdesking, engaging them early to communicate the objectives and understand their concerns will be important to ensure greater buy-in. A common approach is to set up a cross-functional task force, led by a senior management team member to ensure alignment at the highest level. Team members should include those who would be impacted as well as those who would be involved in the design and implementation phases of the new work arrangement.
3. Communicate Outcomes and Expectations
Are staff expected to inform supervisors of their starting hours and if so how do we operationalise this?
What are protocols on the accessibility of staff on non-working days or off days?
What are the protocols of use of common workspaces e.g. collaboration spaces, hotdesking, video conference facilities?
Are there guidelines on the use of office equipment for personal use?
What are guidelines on handling confidentiality of information whilst working away from the workplace?
The list can go on but it is for the company to define the boundaries aligned to his culture and defined policies. Not all protocols or policies have to be defined; the key intent and guiding principles have to be clear so that staff can implement them. A lot is dependent on the current culture and the degree of openness and trust.
Developing Competencies to Support the New Way of Work
Beyond equipping staff with the right tools, technology and rules, the implementation team and human resource should identify specific competencies required of the different staff levels for the sustainable success of the New Way of Work.
For example, when the New Way of Work involves less face time with co-workers, specific skills may be required. In a global study by Cisco Systems in 2007 (Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce), their research showed that there were key competencies demonstrated by effective mobile workers. In particular, to be effective, mobile workers need to demonstrate stronger planning and organising skills, flexibility and adaptability and relationship building skills in comparison to their office-based colleagues. By contrast, they are less likely to need effective teamworking skills. This observation does not invalidate their need to work effectively with colleagues, but stems from their strong drive to work effectively on an independent basis. The implication is that as well as selecting employees with these key competencies (for mobile work success), organisations can also provide existing employees with the opportunities they need to develop in these critical mobile working competencies.
We sometimes forget that not everyone zealously embraces new technology e.g. it may be shocking but you may find that you may still know someone who is not using a Smartphone. It is also not uncommon to hear “Why change when the current system is not broken” or “The new technology slows us down”. When the New Way of Work involves the adoption of new software or hardware, do expect some resistance to change and identify appropriate training as part of the implementation plan to develop specific capabilities.
Equip Managers with Skills to Manage the Workforce
For companies who are not already on a performance outcomes-based system, there is a need to first establish a performance management system not based on “face time” e.g. punctuality may not be a key attribute versus other output measures such as on-time delivery of work output. Managers who are mobile and are managing either mobile or office-based teams will need to adapt their personal styles to cope with both being mobile and managing others at the same time.
The Manager must understand the importance of knowing when to be physically present and when not to be, to provide coaching across the team, to nurture loyalty and encourage motivation. Highlighting high achievers and demonstrating that their success did not stem from coming into the office every day is encouraging for others. Excessive scrutiny can result in increased stress, breakdown of genuine relationships and demotivation of staff.
In a flexible work arrangement, staff may spend most of their time away from the primary office, the successful manager needs to work hard to facilitate the following:
Set good performance objectives which are output or outcome-based; move away from assessing staff based on attributes which are only observable through “face-time”
Give timely and valid feedback on performance; this may be a challenge which can be overcome by having a contact schedule that suits both manager and staff
Set and communicate expectations of work performance or “rules of engagement” around expected work behaviours
Understand each individual’s challenges and provide coaching and support where appropriate; for this to happen, proactive communication and empowerment to take an individual approach to support individual needs is critical
Commit to Improvements and Celebrate Success
Leaders set the culture of organisations. Hence consistent communication and behaviours from leaders over time will determine whether the culture supports the New Way of Work. Leverage on existing engagement platforms or create new ones to communicate the progress of the work arrangement. Be honest to acknowledge if things are not working as planned and be open to listening to feedback on how work arrangements can be improved. Close the loop with staff on the actions to be taken to demonstrate commitment to make mobile work a success.
Middle Managers also need to play their part in setting the work environment within the organisation. Managers need to work to raise the profile of the New Way of Work by publicising achievements and feedback about the new methods of working. This is especially important during the “pilot phase” of the implementation. Identifying “quick wins” early on in the programme and communications around the success is critical in shaping perception and attitudes. An effective change management plan can establish open channels of communication between staff and management to identify these.
It is a common practice that the Implementation Team is typically immediately disbanded after the “launch” of any new initiative. It is highly recommended that the role of continuously gathering feedback on the work arrangement and evaluating its effectiveness for improvement be assigned to a functional process owner or committee to ensure sustainable implementation.
This article was first published in the New Ways of Work Handbook by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Author: Jacqueline Gwee, Director, aAdvantage Consulting
Jacqueline has had over 25 years of broad-based human resource, change management and business excellence consulting experience in both the public and private sectors. She leads the Research & Insights, Business Excellence & Human Resources solution areas within aAdvantage Consulting. She has worked with clients from a range of industries including property, banking & finance, software development, electronic manufacturing, trading, chemicals, government services, healthcare and construction & engineering.
Her areas of consulting experience include organisational reviews, design and conduct of organisational and public perception surveys, compensation and benefits advice, job evaluation and performance management systems, executive search & selection, organisational development, corporate restructuring, change management and career & outplacement counselling.