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So why didn't laptops and mobile phones help to achieve flexible workplaces?

The basic technical ability to work flexibly has been around for a while, through mobile networks, phones and emails. However, a holistic approach is needed to achieve a true flexible working strategy.

What is your role in creating a flexible workplace? Most projects described to me generally place ICT in the ''enabler only" category, and are not necessarily invited to the planning and strategy table. I think we can all agree that we'd prefer to be "drivers" - but given this legacy dynamic for most - how do we take that step?

The ability to technically enable flexible working has improved radically in the last couple of years, with the mainstream release of both enterprise and cloud based web-conferencing tools. However the basic technical ability to work flexibly has been around a lot longer - as at minimum you could get away with a mobile telephone and email.

Why aren't workplaces flexible?

So what's the difference? Why is it we are only now seeing flexible working in the headlines? Why didn't we achieve it with the rollout of laptops and mobile email? Well, the size of the prize has become huge for an organisation that successfully enables flexible working, but getting it right requires new thinking. For ICT professionals, it's about agitating for much closer collaboration with, and strategic planning alongside an array of other business units.

From a human resources perspective, flexible working is usually provisioned with some rigour. For example, flexible working doesn't just mean working the hours that suit you and when they suit you. Instead it works within various structures and policies, and always with the committed support of people managers. ICT needs to work at the centre of this scenario - not on the edge, and not just there to roll out the VPN or cloud solution at the end of the planning process.

From an employee perspective, when implemented properly, flexible working should mean several things: you're trusted; you're valued; and you're responsible. That means you're able to get work done in an effective manner wherever you are, when that work needs to be done. There is a huge and broad onus upon ICT to enable this.

From an employer perspective, flexible working should deliver greater employee engagement. It should allow them to create a stronger employee value proposition. This means better talent, experience, and relevant skills are available to the organisation. That talent, experience and skills will grow exponentially and stay with them.

Overall flexible working should promote diversity across a pool of loyal, hardworking staff who don't not need, or want to go and work for someone else. They can move state, move country, undergo major changes in their personal lives, shift from full days to part days, and back again with ease.

How can this be achieved?

Is ubiquitous access to new technology and new ways of collaborating remotely the only ingredient? No. In our previous collaboration blogs, we have discussed the imperative for cultural change. This change goes far beyond rolling out technology or signing up for online services - the focus must be on employee engagement. So for ICT, taking the next step doesn't mean just agitating for new technology - doing so leaves you at the "enabler only" table.

In the technical industry we are very familiar with the term 'convergence' - and flexible working is all about convergence, but on a grander scale. Convergence of your core business agenda, your people and culture teams, as well as your ICT and organisational change teams. It's the teams that take this holistic approach, who will be rewarded with a seat at the strategy and planning table.

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