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opinions 03.01.14

Why smart businesses are adopting smart working

With traffic jams, overcrowding and inflated fares all capable of making an early morning worse, it is little wonder more people are working from home. In the ten years up until 2011, the proportion of people working mainly at or from home increased from 9.2 to 10.7 percent in the UK. Whilst it is not possible for everyone to work from home, the trend clearly shows a demand for some level of flexible working. Research by the CBI indicates employers’ recognition of this, with a total of 59% now offering a degree of teleworking, up from 13% in 2006. This sizeable shift in working behaviour has opened opportunities for the re-evaluation and re-structure of the working environment.   

It is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the facilities manager’s role to recognise how changing working practises can impact the office environment. Clients know how their businesses are changing, but without specific facilities experience, it’s difficult for them to know how these changes should influence their office environments.  Taking a more proactive, innovative approach, facilities managers can help clients by providing business services specifically designed to enable flexible working environments and more efficient working practises.

Flexible working may primarily be seen as a way of improving employees’ work-life balance, but it can also have a very positive impact on a business’ bottom line. Data collected by real estate analyst IPD suggests that the average annual cost of accommodating a full-time worker rose almost 6% to £4,638 last year - a six year high. Businesses filled with empty desks are unproductive so facilities managers must help management teams better align the environment to cater for the needs of the workforce. There are a number of ways in which this can be done:

Hot-desking - This is a key tool that many offices use as part of a wider flexible working strategy. Non-owned desk space works effectively to deliver lower costs, more social working environments, and enables employees to feel more integrated and often become more creative.

For the benefits of hot-desking to be felt, individuals need to take responsibility for communal space and pack away all personal belongings when leaving their workstation, so there’s no confusion over desk occupation the next day. It is part of the facility manager’s role is to ensure the efficient running of this system.  

Space utilisation audit - While long lunches are largely a thing of the past, people like to meet away from their desks to discuss ideas over a coffee in an environment without any distractions. With meeting rooms over-subscribed in many businesses, the answer often lies in better utilising communal areas. Facilities managers must lead this workspace reassessment and supply the professional expertise - considering factors like health and safety and whether moving furniture in a communal space can improve meeting areas without blocking access.

Booking Systems - An effective booking system is important to support more effective use of the workspace. Booking systems are commonly used to track the status of meeting rooms, but in larger organisations desk booking systems can make hot-desking easier. For the systems to work efficiently, space must be released when no longer needed and not monopolised for long periods.

In large organisations where desk-sharing is common practise or people are working in dispersed teams, a customer liaison team should be established to facilitate the smooth running of the flexible workplace. It is the customer liaison’s role to look after shared resources and provide a permanent point of contact for understanding where and when particular teams are working.

There is no doubt that the work environment is changing. In the capacity of advisors and managers, facilities professionals can help clients negotiate and take advantage of these changes, implementing strategies which improve their workplace environments and save their businesses money. The successful application of smart working, in which the FM has an integral role, will produce real business benefits, for employer and employee alike.

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