Four years ago, the first edition of The Smart Working Handbook was published, designed to offer best practice advice in transforming organisations through smart working techniques. Its success was unprecedented, with more than 100,000 copies being downloaded and shared. Its advice has been adopted by numerous organisations including the UK Cabinet Office, as the official guide to Smart Working for the UK’s 440,000 civil servants.
The updated and expanded second edition is now available for download, and while it’s definitely worth absorbing in its entirety, we thought it might be helpful to compile a quick digest of our 10 top takeaways from the handbook.
Before diving into these however, it’s worth taking stock of how much the world of work is changing. A quarter of the EU workforce is now classed as ‘e-nomads’. Ninety percent of large organisations offer flexible working, and 4.2 million people work from home in UK. Work in the 21st century is about what you do, not where you do it.
‘Smart Working’, which may also be branded ‘Agile Working’, ‘Modern and Flexible Working’, or ‘Dynamic Working’, is all about businesses enabling work to take place at the most effective locations and at the most effective times, so that flexibility becomes the norm. This helps to improve work-life balance for staff, as well as reducing the financial costs of running an organisation.
So without further ado, here are our top 10 best practice takeaways:
- Managing by output: On a day-to-day basis, managing Smart Working teams means moving away from managing by presence to managing by outcome. This involves different ways of keeping in contact with staff, of assessing workloads and monitoring and measuring performance. It’s important to establish team working protocols, which involve greater sharing of schedules with colleagues and managers, filing information so it can be accessed by others and updating each other about work-in-progress.
- Rethink meetings – physical meetings should be reserved for important collaborative work involving activities such as training, brainstorming and decision-making. The benefits of Smart Working can be undermined by insisting that individuals are present for routine meetings. Wherever possible, when employees are working in different locations, meetings should be held using audio, video or web conferencing.Ideally managers should look to reduce the number of physical face-to-face meetings by at least one third.
- Smart Working should be for everyone – most roles have scope for some flexibility. It should not be the case that some people are classed as ‘fixed’ workers while others are classed as flexible or smart workers. Smart Working involves changes to the way all people work.
- Embedding the new working culture – it can be a good idea to organise specific training in Smart Working techniques for managers and teams, and awareness-raising sessions for all levels of staff. It’s also important that organisations develop team charters or protocols to involve employees in designing and enforcing their own team arrangements for rolling out Smart Working practices.
- Create a Smart Working environment – attractive and inspiring work environments are crucial to support the new work styles, increase the adaptability of space, and boost business performance.Unlike traditional offices, which are based on having ranks of personally allocated desks, smart office environments should have a mix of work positions and meeting spaces where work activities can be carried out. Desk-based tasks can increasingly be carried out from anywhere, and so functional spaces, such as such as flexible meetings spaces, quiet spaces for concentrated working, confidential areas, team tables and touch-down areas become more important.
- Carry out a space audit – this can be used to measure how space is occupied throughout the working day over a representative sample of days. Space audits in offices with traditional working practices and a typical mix of work types typically show average desk occupancy levels of 45% or less over the working day. The end result can provide indisputable data showing that space is not being used efficiently and that resources are being wasted, which can be used to underpin the design of new office space. In theory the number of desks will reduce, and more collaborative spaces will be introduced.
- Introduce shared workspace – this shouldn’t be all about desks. Many organisations use a mix of desks, shared tables and project tables for regular work in the office. These will be supplemented by touch-down desks and quiet spaces as well as informal spaces that can also be used for regular work for shorter periods.
- Technologies for Smart Working – this depends on moving towards a digital by default working environment. Anywhere where work is done becomes, in a sense, part of ‘the office’ and so common systems, processes and tools should be available to all staff wherever they are working. From laptops and iPads, to cloud storage, online collaboration technologies and video conference…organisations should deploy solutions according to their business needs.
- Virtuality becomes the norm – collaborating on a virtual basis should become a normal way of doing things, and as much a part of the mix as physical face-to-face meetings and being present at the workplace. Over the next couple of years, wearable technologies are likely to add a new dimension to virtual interaction.
- Develop an attendance culture – this focuses on the things people are able to do, rather than focusing on what they are not able to do, when they or a family member is unwell. This aligns well with the Smart Working approach to developing a trust-based and results-focused approach to working, rather than a time and presence-focused approach. Remote working and online attendance in meetings can be particularly helpful in such scenarios.
These takeaway points are really just scratching the surface of the handbook, and hopefully will whet your appetite enough to download and read the full report.
If you are already a Smart Working organisation, we would love you to share some of your top learnings and insight below.