John is an average person of the workforce. A 4-year veteran, he has worked at the same company since he moved on from the military and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Now, with newborn twins at home, John’s priorities have changed. While he remains a professional committed to his career and his employer, he now requires more flexibility in his work schedule.
John is not alone. Many members of today’s workforce are asking for more flexible work schedules. In one study, 45 percent of men want more flexibility in their work arrangements. (Surprisingly, that’s slightly more than the 39 percent of women who want the same thing.)
Adding to the complexity, Microsoft Office observes in their eBook “5 Faces of Today’s Employees” that “you’ll find a variety of employees spanning different work styles, personality types, skillsets, and generations” all working together in one organization. Management nightmare? Only if you’re unprepared.
Because of changing work expectations and longer hours, there’s greater pressure on executives to respond with more modern work practices. Specifically, schedules that allow for employees to have more choice over where they work and when. Google, for example, understands that traffic patterns in the morning aren’t helpful to Dads and Moms who need to drop off the kids to school. Employees can come in after 9am without hassle from management.
Employee work styles range along a continuum of “give me quiet” to “make it loud.” Their expectations of the tools to help them work virtually or in the same space range from using email to the having access to the latest collaboration tool.
The truth is work and non-work demands no longer neatly fall within their supposed boundaries.
The good news is technological collaborative-solutions have made it easier to pair them with business practices. Collaboration has become a fluid interaction, no matter the physical location of the employee.
For many executives, however, the question remains: how do you successfully implement a collaborative solution that satisfies the needs of your employees while also meeting the sometimes competing – even contradictory – needs of the business?
Begin with Understanding Generational Differences
When Work Works, a joint project between SHRM and The Families and Work Institute, found that over 4 out 5 people say work flexibility is a critical factor when considering or taking a new job. Beyond the obvious implications of this finding lies a significant workforce expectation: Employees have a growing need to fit both their personal and professional lives together more neatly. A way to support this growing need is to ease the way teams collaborate—onsite or virtually.
Both Millennials (34%) and Gen X (34%) are the dominant generations in the workplace. Baby Boomers make up 29 percent of the workforce. Be careful, however, to assume that Baby Boomers aren’t as tech savvy or don’t have needs for more flexibility in their work arrangements. Boomers also want flexibility to accommodate the season of their age: being grandparents, taking care of elderly parents, and time off to travel, for example.
Yet, when it comes to Millennials, the first generation born with access to advanced technologies in their youth, expectations are high regarding the use of technologies at work. It’s not enough to enable collaboration for onsite interactions only—meetings, brainstorm sessions, team lunches, etc.
Ubiquitous technologies make it easy to collaborate anytime and anywhere.
Resolve Competing IT Demands
The type of tools referenced above have put IT in a difficult spot. From a 2013 Symantec survey, IT found that 77 percent of businesses have encountered unsupported cloud applications. This exposes the organization to outside threats; the ones that keep executives awake at night: cyber-attacks or confidential data or information exchanged and stored in the cloud.
The unsupported applications, according to Microsoft research, are cloud-based file sharing solutions. The proliferation of rogue cloud applications is an indication of employees finding solutions to meet their needs—needs organizations aren’t meeting fast enough.
CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and CHROS need to develop a business strategy that introduces collaboration practices AND related technologies that adapts to how employees now want – or need – to work
Tips to Boost Collaboration
- Find your change champions—those who support or are likely to support the change
- Develop a list of employees’ needs
- Clearly define business needs
- Develop a work flexibility policy that aligns with company values
- Avoid big-bang technology implementations (break the rollout into phases aiming for quick win that shows that you intend to bring change)
- Engage middle-managers early in the process
- Don’t underestimate the emotional side of changed
IT alone can’t drive this type of culture change. And this can’t be a technology-driven change just for the sake of change. To introduce collaboration technology solutions and do it successfully, the business needs must be clear to all stakeholders. The whole organization must work together to co-create the shift in culture change.
Collaboration is a central part of our humanity; it’s how we have always accomplished important outcomes. From our ancestral history where working together meant survival to technology linking humanity across a global, virtual network, collaboration has always been the glue to achieving significant advancements.
Savvy executives recognize that technology plays an essential role to help employees work effectively in a global society.
What’s more, the make-up of those working for your organization is diverse. To cite Microsoft, “More likely than not, you have remote workers, independent contractors, and business partners, all working outside your office walls.” Resisting this current reality is the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand.
Employees’ demands for greater work place flexibility isn’t a fad. As technology advances and our use of it further integrates into all aspects of our lives, there’s no denying its role in how, where, and when we work. Adopting and adapting to its influences is equivalent to a first-mover advantage. The sooner you move to deliberately change your company culture, the greater lead time you have over those who wait and wait – and wait.
This is a Microsoft Office sponsored post.
A version of this was first posted on switchandshift.com