workspace transformed: taming the digital tiger

Flexible working means the enterprise workspace is undergoing a period of rapid change, we take a look at what it means for businesses, employees and their customers.

Modern business is engaged in massive transformation as it responds to the digital opportunity, Orange Business explains in its latest report, “Taming the Digital Tiger”. Customer and employee expectations are changing as connected technologies enable flexibility across every business process.

There are many benefits – from customer engagement to employee loyalty, but managing these changes is changing the role of management – and in some cases, management hasn’t yet moved fast enough to control the digital beast.

“The CIO must balance constant pressure from the business for flexible working (for example, decentralized workforce, no regular hours) and new devices on the one hand, and the need for cautious, planned adoption of mobility on the other, to ensure that business value is delivered at the right cost and with minimal risk,” Gartner warns.

transition point

The promise of flexibility includes higher employee satisfaction and productivity levels, but these new practices shouldn’t be confined to executive and sales teams, employees across organizations expect the same kind of flexible control over when and where they work.

Look at Cisco, for example. It has moved to goal based management and doesn’t mandate where its staff are located. Instead it assembles teams with the right skills for each need, using unified communications and task-based collaboration to support them. That’s not to say every enterprise has mastered these transformations: around 58 percent of HR professionals say their company has embraced flexible working, but almost half of these have no time and attendance system in place to manage these arrangements.

There’s no one size fits all model: “each company has slightly different requirements,” says the report. “The process should be continuous, and those businesses that innovate with the new digital models will find solutions that enable them to reach business objectives faster and more efficiently than those that do not seize the opportunities afforded by new ways of working.”

structural change

Implementing these changes requires that enterprises break down existing silos between departments, empower end users to participate in the change management process and extend the role of IT provision. The obvious challenges (security, policy, mobile device management) are matched with less predictable issues (some companies have identified feelings of isolation among remotely based employees, others find the sheer number of flexible working solutions providers to be a challenge in itself).

A change of this magnitude demands companies take input from every stakeholder, including employees. Best practice suggests management of flexible working deployments is best served by appointing groups of executives and end users from every part of the organization to manage these changes – with the added proviso that existing division-based silos and hierarchies also need to change. Some companies already encourage collaboration between teams in order to break down the silos and boost innovation and agility.

empowering employees isn’t skin deep

It’s important to note that the evolution of flexible workspaces requires an equivalent transformation in the way people work, and this has consequences beyond the workplace  in domestic arrangements and relationships with colleagues. No wonder end users need to be involved in managing these changes.

“More than just the work place, we have worked on the work environment: the physical space but also the work philosophy, the way people work and collaborate, the way services are provided to employees, all these things that make an employee feel good at work,” says Yves Grandmontagne, HR Director, Microsoft France.

“The role of the CIO is evolving to support business operations, not to tightly control all aspects of IT delivery but more in a governance model,” says Jean-Luc Vallejo, Marketing Director in charge of Digital Workspace Program, Orange Business. This means CIOs must work closely with business leaders and other stakeholders to reach strategic decisions that transform working life at the company.

policy is essential

Change management also means developing supporting policy to ensure end users change their habits and adopt the new tools. Microsoft requires people who work flexibly gain permission from management and sign a charter of good practice. SNCF created a collaboration policy including training, meetings and video resources while the company CEO put transparent walls in his office in recognition of the need to abandon silo-based business thinking.

Unfortunately not every company embracing flexible working practices has thought it through. In a survey of UK HR teams, 46% of respondents admitted to having no time and attendance system in place to manage flexible working policies.

Flexibility is everything: Even the technology solutions that are adopted need to be interoperable, reliable and secure, particularly as Gartner warns, “Technology is evolving faster than industry standards.”

seven tips to help transform the workspace

  1. don’t expect to change overnight: roll changes out slowly
  2. employees need training in use of new work tools/workspace
  3. there is an essential requirement for company policy guiding use of time and BYOD
  4. leaders need guidance on managing remote staff
  5. move to results based management practices
  6. don’t skip the details, try to predict unpredictable problems
  7. and remember that change management is a continuous process


Read more in the full Orange Business Service report written with Sia Partners and Harris Interactive in 2013/14.