As organisations serve global clients in different time zones, and employees are constantly on the move meeting local clients face-to-face regularly, they are increasingly asked to work remotely and outside the standard “nine-to-six” work schedule.

Flexi-place and flexi-time work options are gaining popularity as organisations “wire up” with technological infrastructure to meet business needs.

Here are the benefits:

1. Heightened responsiveness to work demands

The 2009 Kelly Global Workforce Index found that 9 out of 10 Singaporeans felt that mobile communications technology has made them more efficient at work.

For instance, law firm Rajah & Tann invested in communications facilities like teleconferencing to reduce air travel for its lawyers. These communications facilities enable the lawyers to conduct “real-time” meetings with clients overseas without having to travel physically.

2. Higher client satisfaction levels

With staff wired up, they will also be more readily available to respond to client requests, so organisations can expect to see customer satisfaction levels rise.

While this is typically qualitatively measured (for example, via verbal praise or grateful e-mails), the organisation may experience repeat business from the same customer or even new business coming in from referrals by existing clients.

3. Increased employee engagement

Investing in flexibility-enhancing technology sends a clear signal to employees that work-life integration is a priority for the organisation and its management.

This is likely to be reciprocated through a sense of personal accountability among staff who will ensure that they spend their working hours productively to fully utilise the flexibility options offered to them. Employees who are more engaged at work are more likely to go the extra mile for the organisation.

4. Attraction and retention of key talent

In a competitive hiring climate, flexible work practices can provide an added edge for an organisation. By providing the technology for staff to work remotely and ultimately giving them more personal time and space, organisations create a work environment that is hard to replicate and likely to withstand more lucrative job offers from competitors.

The wired organisation

Complementary tools and resources are necessary to ensure the maximum effectiveness of a “wired organisation”. These include:

* Training

When implementing flexible work arrangements, managers are often uncomfortable with having their teams operate remotely as there is a lack of immediate work supervision and perceived staff accountability.

Work-life implementation training may be required to help managers with the paradigm shift and educate them on how to measure performance via quality of work rather than physical presence in the office.

* Key performance indicators

A performance-based management system is necessary to make flexibility work for both the organisation and employee. Appraising employees by the quality of their work and specific work targets met will be a more accurate and equitable form of performance assessment.

This also allows the organisation to gauge the effectiveness of each type of flexible work arrangement and make necessary tweaks when needed.

* Standard operating procedures

Management must set specific guidelines to prevent the misuse of flexibility-enhancing technology. This should include IT security procedures, the appropriate use of these technology tools, and how and when each staff needs to be available to their supervisors, colleagues and clients.

For example, an employee who is telecommuting may have a pre-agreed fixed duration that they must be contactable via phone or e-mail.

* Funding

One of the typical barriers to investing in flexibility-enhancing technology is the financial outlay required.

Organisations can consider tapping into funding schemes such as the Work-Life Works! (WoW!) Fund and NTUC’s Flexi-Works!, which offer substantial financial support for organisations that invest in flexibility enhancement.

Why wire?

In today’s business world, organisations will inevitably encounter the question of whether to go “high-tech” and offer “flex”.

Leveraging technology to enhance flexibility at the workplace is a smart way to overcome the present job seekers market by branding the company as an “employer of choice”.

Tomorrow: Leadership in the new economy