The London School of Economics (LSE) has just published some interesting research on the long-term impacts of home working. As a flexible worker, I was interested to read the results, however, I was disappointed by the article on the news in The Times because they had clearly misunderstood the outcomes, focusing on how ‘working at home can foster bad habits’… But home working isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of flexibility.
When we dig a little deeper, it turns out that the LSE research confirms what we all know to be true; people like to have a choice about their place of work. The study found that employees disliked being forced to work at home, just as much as they disliked being forced to work in an office. It seems you can’t please them all!
However, as both a part-time home worker and full-time anywhere worker, here are my tips on how to combat the issues flagged by the research.
1. Crystal Clear
“If the company expects homeworkers to be a lot more productive or workers expect employers to give them a lot of flexibility and not have to reciprocate in kind, one or both are likely to be disappointed.” - Dr. Esther Canonico, LSE
Anywhere working requires clear communication, and an established trust based on conversations prior to commencing a flexible arrangement. As a manager, you need to confirm whether you are offering the flexibility of location, hours, or both. It’s also important to have a policy that clearly states whether employees must request to vary their set hours or workplace in advance of every instance, or if they have the freedom to work in their preferred way every day. That way there is no confusion and no disappointment.
2. There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM…
‘Those at home every day also become “socially and professionally isolated”, increasingly feeling out of touch, losing confidence in their skills and no longer able to “accurately interpret and use information”. Emails can be misinterpreted, whereas the signals are usually clear in a face-to-face meeting.’
It's easy for someone to feel overlooked or undervalued if they never get to see their boss or their colleagues. As a manager, it’s up to you to ensure your team feels included. You could ensure that your team uses video collaboration for all meetings so that everyone can join face-to-face, wherever they are. Conducting as much team communication face-to-face as possible eliminates the misunderstandings that can arise from email. You could hold virtual ‘coffee breaks’ and ‘lunches’ to ensure team members feel included. And as I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, if you are meeting one-to-one with your reports regularly you both benefit. You know first-hand about their achievements and are able to provide them with the same attention and recognition as those based in the office.
3. All by myself…
‘Sitting alone and focusing intently on a piece of work for several hours without a chat at the coffee machine can be negative. “The intensity of homeworking accentuates the negative impact of professional isolation on job performance.”’
Of course it’s easy to fall into negative behaviours if you feel isolated from the rest of your team, so it is essential that both yours and your team member’s mind-set be aligned right from the beginning. I would advise that managers still organise in-person meetings and team building exercises on a regular, if infrequent, basis. Using video collaboration solutions, can help maintain team bonds between dispersed members until they can be in the same place at the same time. Anywhere working doesn’t mean that you should never spend a day in the office with your colleagues, through the use of technology it just means it doesn’t have to be an everyday occurrence.
Work to Live…
One thing that is really important is to achieve balance. Any place, any time, any device can be a double edged sword, which is why the individual needs to find that balance. Work-life balance doesn’t always mean less time in the office, or working all hours; it means finding a solution that best suits the individual and enables their maximum personal productivity. That balance can shift with time, as our personal circumstances change, or our role does. Both employees and employers need to be flexible beyond home working to achieve the best possible results.
I read with interest Oleg Vishnepolsky’s piece on ‘Do NOT Work from home’ if you want to progress in your career. I have to say it read like an article from an era, when we had dial-up internet, people could only work between 9-5, and church and paper shops were the only places open on a Sunday.
Like many others commenting, I am also going to disagree with you Oleg, because working for a video solutions provider, means I can work from home or in fact anywhere I choose.
Being a professional working mother who is reporting to a direct-line manager situated in the US, means I have many demands on me to be flexible. From dealing with nursery drop-offs to dialing into important meetings at 8pm – which, I am glad I can do, from home in the comfort of my own surroundings and not at my desk in Slough (45 mins away).
There is a mention of career progression being stunted due to not being ‘physically present’. Surely most people these days want to work for an organisation that trusts its employees to get the job done, as opposed to working within set hours at a set location?
I know that there is still a 9-5 culture in some organisations and even in specific job roles. However, in the near future, this is set to change as more millennials join the workforce. They particularly value the idea of flexibility with 45% of them saying it takes precedence over pay when choosing a new job. With this in mind, I suspect there will be more demand for flexible workplaces that also provide career progression opportunities.
In fact, I am actually a case study of how it can be achieved. I have worked in my current position for nearly five years, and in that time I have been lucky enough to have been promoted three times, and have two children in between. I have possibly worked from home during half of that time, and having a boss in the US means I only see him for half of his day too. So you could say I stood next to no chance in being promoted – but I managed it, so I am sure others can too.
In fact, in order to be successful if you are a home or flexibly worker, you can apply these tips to get you started:
1) Application: It goes without saying, ensure you apply yourself to the job in hand – start your day with a daily to-do-list of jobs and deadlines
2) Status Check: Ensure you meet with your manager to regularly set and review goals / objectives – and check status of those at least bi-weekly over video
3) Communicate: Make sure you engage with relevant stakeholders / peer group regularly over video to ensure they are aware of what you are working on and to keep on top of the agenda
4) Manage your time: Take time back if necessary, perhaps you had a deadline to meet which meant you worked until 9pm one evening, but as result you missed your spin class – take the time back and go to your spin class
5) Technology: It always helps to have the right tools in place, if you want to work from home or flexibly, invest in collaboration solutions – IM, Video, Email - are all ways you can stay in touch and stay present – without ‘being present’
Anywhere working (what was ‘working from home’) is quickly becoming a well-recognised workplace approach, in fact Lancaster University’s Work Foundation predicts that flexible working will be the main way of working for 70 percent of organisations by 2020. With a flexible work culture, no one is bound by geographical location which provides the capability to hire the best talent in the world, literally… The bottom line is you can have it all ways – you can have that flexibility to live your life and get ahead too.
I have always been conscientious, I even got awarded most conscientious Brownie when I was 8 years old, it’s that built into my make-up. I have prided myself on working hard going that extra mile, throughout my working life and resulti ng in my current position in Corporate Communications. When I became a mummy to daughter number 1, it was a massive wake-up call – running a small team, rallying senior spokespeople and journalists, ‘PR-ing’ stuff - is nothing compared to the level of hard work required to be mummy.
I am just returning to work (first day!) from maternity leave with daughter number 2. This second time round I had post-natal depression for the first 3 months of my leave which meant I wasn’t really able to enjoy my little ones as much as I perhaps had anticipated – that coupled with a crazy 2 year old made things that little bit more interesting… don’t get me started on the joys of potty training – takes multi-tasking to a whole new level! So suffice to say returning to work after 7 months off kind of crept up on me – just as I started to feel less murderous and the girls are getting more interesting.
Luckily, my return to work for a big corporate isn’t as hard as for me, as I imagine it is for others. Luckily, I work for a company that uses video conferencing like they use a desk phone – as the main way to communicate (can you tell I work in communications?).
Which brings me back to being conscientious… and a great multi-tasker (aren’t all mums?) knowing that there were several important meetings / discussions taking place whilst I was off on maternity leave, I wanted to make sure I kept my finger on the pulse. But not to the detriment of my new little family…always a cake and eat it too type me!
So what I suspect would have been an arduous task to keep in touch with my employer (finding childcare, packing numerous bags, trekking to an office), was just ridiculously easy. Both times I have been on maternity leave, I have been able to stay in touch with my boss (based in the US) and my team based here in the UK through video calls. Which is making my return to work that little less painful.
Why do I feel the need to talk about this? Simply because without being able to make video calls and having access to this technology, I would not be prepared to go back to work now (earlier than most in the UK, my youngest is nearly 7 months) or be able to keep on top of things to the level I would feel comfortable.
Naturally once I get back in to the swing of work, it will also help me to be successful as both mummy and in the office. For me having access to this technology is a no-brainer and should be the norm for corporations – it’s not a just a luxury any more, the luxury is the fact you can have your cake and eat it too…just saying!
Guest Blog: Ray McGroarty, EMEA Director, Industry Solutions and Market Development
Financial Services is a fast-moving sector where new decisions about the most valued commodity – money - are made with every passing second. Having a collaborative workforce that is driven towards improving business productivity and speed of decision-making is therefore pivotal to the success of any financial services company as well as their customers. The right mix of workplace collaboration tools can not only improve engagement internally between the various departments of a geographically dispersed financial service workforce, but also externally between internal departments and their suppliers and customers. This allows the workforce to be more agile and productive and in turn promotes flexible working.
The applications, devices and workspaces used to conduct business in financial services have evolved from being consolidated, homogenous and predictable to being fragmented, heterogeneous and spontaneous. The workforce is more dispersed and mobile, and business is conducted from almost any location and at any time. This is leading to an increase in the demand for workplace technology that enables borderless collaboration and improves the speed of the decision-making process for businesses within the financial services sector.
The five pillars of financial services
With the advances in technology, the ways in which customers access information supplied by their financial services providers have also changed. For example, customers can easily access their banking information or details of a payment they made using their mobile phone or computer, eliminating the need to physically visit a bank. Within the workforce, there is a growing need for mobility and access to services that do not compromise expert face-to-face interaction for the internal teams. When it comes to external communications with partners or customers, business workflows need to be able to provide the same functionality conveniently as during such meetings there is often a need to discuss documents, applications and approvals. To do this, we need audio-visual interaction along with content sharing ability. Audio-visual interactions enable customers to understand clearly as they can read the gestures and body language too, and ask questions in real-time, discuss concerns, share documents through content-sharing solutions and obtain spontaneous feedback where possible. This speeds up the decision-making process for the financial services firm without compromising on customer satisfaction.
Agility and Flexibility
Financial service companies need to be agile to be able to search and hire new talent – currently there is a struggle to attract the best talent and make hiring decisions promptly. Utilising video collaboration for talent acquisition, on-boarding new employees and providing learning and development opportunities helps improve employee engagement, communication, as well as the reach of corporate initiatives. Additionally, financial service organisations need to offer flexibility to work, flexible locations and training.
The challenge around creativity is how to synchronise to ensure work and efforts are not being duplicated and that the creativity is shared – whilst this is often conducted through email, video proves to be efficient and there is a better understanding when employees are able to see and discuss in real time. It’s not always possible to meet every day so video solutions enable a financial service company to collaborate effectively.
To evolve as a business, visual interaction, especially when it’s an interesting higher-value transaction, is desired to put the face back into the heart of financial services. When making important decisions, it is vital that decision-makers feel confident and can trust that their financial services advisor is making the right choices. Millennials are reluctant to engage with big banks, they have current accounts, credit cards, but they aren’t investing their money in the same way as their parents’ generation. The financial services sector needs to start attracting this generation if they are to drive value from these customers. There are also wider economic implications for the financial services sector and the UK market as a whole if they can’t rebuild that trust and encourage the public to engage again.
Facilitating convenient access to specialist advisors through video collaboration, and making those digital appointments as valuable as their in-person counterparts through real-time content collaboration solutions, allows customer advisors to cross-sell, up-sell and improve the overall business efficiency. To learn more about the changing face of financial services and how you can achieve collaborative financial services to gain competitive advantage please join me and FinTech expert Mike Baliman on the 5th May at 10am BST by registering here and join the #FaceOfFinance twitter hashtag to join the full conversation.
If you are unable to make the webinar you can always download the full version of our new free whitepaper which will give you access to a new, exclusive video detailing what should be top of mind for leading financial services institutions to remain competitive.
Waiting times to see a General Practitioner (GP) and the struggle to find the right appointment time to balance your work, life and health isn’t that unfamiliar to many of us. The situation can become more stressful when you have to meet that one specialist who is based in a particular hospital on the other side of the country, and that appointment is accompanied with travel expenses. On top of that GPs are often overworked and are expected to make themselves available 24/7.
So why we are still stuck in this cycle? We are we still waiting to see the true convergence of technology in healthcare when mobile devices are readily available and have already become the definition of easier living. Why can we meet our friends and family over phone or video at the click of a button – but not use the very same technology in a healthcare scenario?
We will always need health consultations in person; however, we can now easily extend these consultations to the next village, town or city for the needy through video solutions. Equipping health practitioners with video technology can reduce the pressure on them and their patients.
Perhaps you have ideas of your own?
We are opening up this debate through a Twitter chat we are organising with the industry leading experts – Andrew Graley, EMEA Director Healthcare at Polycom, Mark Evans, Commercial Director at Imerja, and Veronica Southern, Director at Veronica Southern Telerehab Ltd (ex-NHS clinician).
If you have strong views on this subject, views you wish to air or are just curious – please do drop by.
Questions on Twitter should be tagged #PolycomChat and will be answered live between 12:30-13:30 BST on 19 May 2015. Alternatively, you can also leave your questions in the comments section of this article so we can provide you a response.
Marco Landi joined EMEA as our new President on the 12th January, We caught up with Marco to find out more about his plans for 2015 and what has been keeping him busy over the past 100 days.
The first 100 days as a new leader is a crucial period. What have you learnt so far? What’s been the hardest thing about starting a new role?
As we all know, when starting a new job there are two key areas to get up to speed on as quickly as possible; the business and the people.
When I started, my plan was to meet as many people as possible to help understand the way we do things here at Polycom. I have visited our teams in most of the EMEA countries now, and have met many people both internally and externally – just don’t ask me to remember everyone’s names!
Now that I have successfully completed my first 100 days as President, I am beginning to understand the fundamentals of how we do business at Polycom and it is clear that transparency is essential. In a region as diverse as EMEA, our markets require tailored local strategies to address the differing potential in each region - there is no ‘one size fits all approach’. So we are creating a series of local plans which sit within the EMEA plan to unearth further opportunity.
What changes have you made so far?
Improving communication across EMEA is probably one of the biggest changes I have made so far. Obviously working for a video solutions company has it benefits and enables us to do that. As they say, it’s important to ‘drink your own champagne’. I am a big fan of talking – those who have met me will already know that! I believe to be successful you need to get out and meet people face-to-face, which includes over video. That said, I have visited many countries in my first 100 days – meeting partners, customers and the team - and have asked their opinions of us and our proposition to help me create the strategy for EMEA. I am also meeting regularly with a wide range of team members, many of whom I wouldn’t traditionally work with on a daily basis, through an internal ‘Latte with Landi’ initiative. Through this I am gaining valuable internal insight and ideas.
One other change I am looking to introduce is to inject a little fun – we are all very serious in EMEA – and whilst I am a great believer in working hard, I also believe you should play hard too! So I am aiming to roll out a few more internal initiatives designed to inject a little fun and healthy competition very soon.
What do you see as the biggest challenge? Has anything in particular surprised you?
Nothing has shocked me outright but it’s not an easy market. I expected this and the challenge is one of the main reasons I joined Polycom. There is fierce competition and it is not to be underestimated. I think the biggest challenge for us is how we go about increasing our relevance to partners and customers. If you are a small cog in the wheel for a customer then you can’t really get the coverage and visibility needed, and so you become less important. We need to do a lot more work to increase our relevance. There are a lot of things that are working and are ok - but we can do a lot better– we have been ok for too long and it is not enough, we need to be great and there are areas we need to look at improving to achieve this!
What has inspired you most about the UC industry? Polycom offers so much, how do you describe what we do?
I think the technology is cool and very relevant for the way people want to interact today and in the future. I think ‘unleashing the power of human collaboration’ describes us and what we can do for others very well. As Polycom is the best in class, video, voice and content collaboration solutions provider - what we do is what’s most interesting to me – enabling people to communicate at anytime, anywhere and through any device.
I have made sure to use all of our solutions, and found them easy to use. Practicing what we preach and using our technology every day has given me a real sense of what the workplace of the future could look like. Traditionally, the value proposition of video conferencing was around the cost equation: less travel, saving time and resources and so on. But actually the solutions that we provide with our partners are increasingly solving business problems, especially in the vertical sectors.
We have some great customer stories that demonstrate about how video has impacted people’s lives for the better, and these stories really do show that it isn’t just a technology used by C-staff for meetings – video collaboration in its truest sense can have an impact in healthcare institutions, manufacturing facilities and in classrooms round the world – that’s what is inspiring to me.
What are the biggest market opportunities for Polycom in EMEA?
As far as I can see there is not one big opportunity in market or within the portfolios that will enable us to achieve success. I think it will come in the form of lots of smaller opportunities and little changes and tweaks to existing approaches in region that will enable us to meet our growth objective. As I have mentioned previously these changes and approaches will form part of our ‘go to market’ strategy and plan along with sales, marketing, services, demand gen and brand awareness, all these areas combined is the way forward for us in EMEA.
From a portfolio perspective, I do think we have a great opportunity in voice – the hosted telephony market is doing extremely well and we should continue to push our efforts there. The video market is changing; it’s no longer focused on the enterprise. The rise of VaaS alongside BYOD and consumerisation means that increasingly we are seeing video deployments reaching into the SMB space. It’s a different approach though, with a focus on software and services as opposed to hardware and infrastructure. This is something we are prepared for and addressing, but there is more work to be done in achieving our vision of video ubiquity.
The other opportunity I can see is our partnership with Microsoft; the relationship has never been stronger and continues to be a critical part of our strategy in EMEA. It’s a key differentiator for us in attracting new customers and expanding our partner base hence our continued development of solutions for this market, such as RealConnect.
What is the one thing you want to achieve most at Polycom?
This hasn’t changed since you last asked me! My top priority and achievement at Polycom, is to keep us on the growth trajectory and maintain the profitability of the business we have today. Growth in a static and difficult market is a challenge but one I am excited about.
What’s your favourite thing about the company culture at Polycom?
My favourite thing about the culture at Polycom is being a virtual meeting room away – the fact we ‘drink our own champagne’ and 90% of us use video for the majority of our meetings – it shows how lean a business can be and also enables our staff to embrace a better work life balance.
Would you agree that ‘work is not a place you go, it’s what you do’?
Yes I would. Flexible and home workers, like me, are driving a cultural change that accentuates work as something we do versus a place we go. I believe that the way you work does not depend on a physical location or turning up to the office every day, but is more about driving tangible outcomes. While physical presence and clocking a certain number of hours are still important or necessary for many organisations, my belief is that work is not a ‘place’ anymore.
Have you managed to enjoy any downtime- are you personally seeing the benefit of video collaboration solutions?
I have and I do. I am actually based up in the midlands, so in between travelling around EMEA both physically and virtually, I am still able to enjoy some quality time with my family; in fact I recently came back from a ski-trip. Next on my list is Kilimanjaro…
Rob: Many employees feel that they have too many meetings already - isn't video collaboration just a way to hold meetings remotely?
Roger: "It's not that employees have too many meetings; that's a function of business culture. Organisations still have to be smart about time management; however; video collaboration can make necessary meetings more productive. In the UK alone time wasted being unproductive in meetings is estimated to cost the economy £26 billion every year. That's because of the 4 hours the average worker spends in meetings a week, 2 hours 39 minutes of this time is wasted. This is down to travel time, waiting for rooms when the previous meeting runs over, waiting for latecomers etc. Workers can be more productive when they don't have to physically go to a meeting room and wait for a meeting to start. When dialling into a meeting room from your desk you can continue to work right up until the moment the meeting starts.
Video as a medium also speeds up the meeting process. Essentially, meetings are a way to reach consensus on issues and make decisions. In our recent research, more than 80 percent of those using video collaboration said they experience faster decision making. The ability to launch a group video collaboration anytime, anywhere means no more long, convoluted email trails as a preamble to a lengthy meeting. And of course both remote and external participants can join easily, so that the group can be effective and efficient. Video collaboration promotes smarter and faster decision-making."
It is clear that for video to effectively change the way people work, share information and make decisions to be more efficient, more people, in fact pretty much all employees would need to be using it. The reality is that in many organisations, video conferencing usage exists only in pockets; either the walnut veneered boardroom, certain team meeting rooms or on privileged desktops. This seems oddly restrictive when so many have become so accustomed to advanced communications, including video, as consumers.
However, the research also indicated that some organisations had a much more progressive attitude than others. In these, video conferencing usage had become accepted, normalised like using the phone and very widely adopted. So what makes them different?
Rob: What do you think are the characteristics of an adoptive video culture?
Roger: "Organisations with a high percentage of digital natives and millennials will see a video culture develop rapidly. This is because these workers are more used to using video in their personal lives, with consumer solutions such as Skype and FaceTime.
However, there are other key factors. Organisations that are constantly revisiting process and policy in pursuit of improvement adapt and evolve more quickly. Those organisations where IT is a more active participant at C-level will see video collaboration integrated into business processes and therefore adopted quickly too. Having IT advise lines of business leaders on integration of video collaboration drives adoption from the top down.
In order to foster a bottom-up movement in terms of video adoption it's important to develop a more democratic work environment where employees feel empowered to run with the tools provided. This means making video for all, not just managers. Dissolving hierarchical access limitations is absolutely essential."
The research backs up these comments. The video conferencing industry has progressed through several stages of evolution, with the perceptions from some earlier hang-ups lingering a little longer than necessary. The technology needed to mature to become easier to use and more reliable, and networks needed to grow in capacity to support higher definition video. This has largely happened, with perhaps the odd rough edges in usability still needing some polish.
The next steps involve non-technical challenges such as social, psychological and political (the internal politics of management) acceptance. These influence the culture in the workplace and attitudes to how people communication. Getting them right will bring greater adoption and should lead to the intended goal - more effective communication. To read more about video adoption, download this free report.
I’m a vocal advocate of the benefits of home working, both for the employee and the employer. That’s all very well for jobs like mine, but what about home offices for those who work in different sectors?
There’s a misconception that home offices are only for the lucky few. Actually, there are amazing examples that show that equipping workers with the relevant technology at home will only become more important in the future.
First, look at healthcare. The NHS Cumbria and Lancashire Cardiac and Stroke Network (CSNLC) has been equipping its on-call consultants with Polycom video collaboration technology at home. By using a desktop application, the consultants are able to connect with a Practitioner Cart at the hospital, where they can view and determine treatment for suspected stroke sufferers. This is particularly important in rural areas, where travelling to the patient in the hospital could waste valuable time. Effectively, the consultants’ homes become the Accident & Emergency department, their equivalent of an office. This kind of home office requires an extremely reliable internet connection, but beyond that, it simply needs a computer and webcam. The consultants still travel to the hospital for regular rounds, but they are able to provide much more effective emergency care by eliminating travel and working from home.
It’s not just doctors who could relocate their offices to their homes. Specialist teachers, such as those delivering foreign language or music lessons, can also benefit from a home office.
For instance, Dumfries and Galloway Council in Scotland realised it could provide more specialist education to children living in rural areas if the teachers weren’t required to travel so far. They invested in video endpoints for the teachers and 120 primary schools, spread across 3,000sq kilometres.
Obviously, it’s not practical for all teachers to work from home – someone needs to be in the classroom – but for specialist teachers who regularly travel between schools, it’s a great way of ensuring that more children benefit from their lessons.
The home office of the future is going to be a far more flexible concept. We’re going to become accustomed to a far more diverse set of professions working from home, using technology which keeps them connected.
Video is going to play a huge part in this. I don’t expect us to have less ‘face time’ with our colleagues and customers, or indeed our patients and pupils. Instead, I believe we’ll have more.