Interest in flexible working has been
established, feasibility studies have been carried out and
management and staff are attracted by the benefits. Now
begins the hard work!
the business case:
A typical scenario is that a human resources,
facility or technology manager has chosen to, or been tasked with,
investigating the potential of flexible working, hot-desking,
home-working, satellite offices or some other change to working
practices that could benefit the organisation.
Following investigation, which could involve
studying Flexibility resources and may include a feasibility study, the next
stage is to "sell" a project to senior management. Put
simply, selling involves justifying the investments in terms of
the expected benefits.
However, as with most business investment, the
costs come first and the risks and benefits later. Few senior
management teams will be happy to commit to an investment unless a
thorough risk and payback analysis has been undertaken. Also they
will normally want to monitor progress and, if appropriate, be
able to terminate and reverse the project if results are not being
Some of the costs and benefits associated with a
project to introduce new ways of working are summarised in the
following table. All situations are different and this should be
used only for guidance; in particular there may be important
operational areas of cost or benefit not covered.
team, consultancy, etc.
In essence, investments must be made in
facilities, technology, training and the project itself and
increased ongoing costs incurred in supporting home and mobile
working. In return, savings will result from smaller offices and
lower staffing levels for the same level of output. Other
benefits, not illustrated in the table, may result from better
customer service, environmental and social gains.
The following example is taken from a leading
consumer products company that merged with its main competitor.
The decision was taken to integrate all staff into a single
operation, based in one of the existing offices. The other office
was sold for development.
Around 350 staff were required to work from an
office that was already full to capacity with 220. A space audit
showed low desk utilisation and other data, including a staff
survey, suggested substantial business benefits from more flexible
The initial justification for the project was
based on space savings alone:
Disposed of redundant building, saving office
facility and desktop technology charge of £6,800 per
employee, i.e. £884,000 per year
Invested in facilities and technology to allow
200 staff to work anywhere and anytime at an annual cost of
£3,500 each, i.e. £700,000 per year
Invested £140,000 in IT and
telecommunications infrastructure and applications
Invested £180,000 in remodelling the
new furniture, new meeting rooms, improved shared space
Invested £210,000 in project management,
consultancy and training costs.
An up-front investment of £530,000 resulted in net facility
cost savings of £184,000 per year, i.e. a payback of just under 3
Whilst this was considered adequate to justify the investment,
the greater benefits resulted from productivity and motivational
improvements from the managers and professional sales and
marketing personnel. With the facility to work flexibly, including
from home, staff are spending more time on productive work and
less time travelling and undertaking administrative activities. A
10% increase in sales per head has been attributed to the project,
equivalent to an annual profit increase of around £500,000.
Finally, it is too early to tell the impact on staff turnover,
but initial indications are that the company has become the
employer of choice in its industry.
As has been stressed throughout this series, the greatest
benefits are only possible by bringing human resources, facilities
and technology managers together around a common agenda of
business performance improvement through new ways of working.
In our experience, the most successful projects have set up
dedicated, autonomous and multi-disciplinary teams under a project
leader reporting directly to a chief executive or other senior
business manager. In
this way the entire team can become totally focused on the project
rather than representing their own disciplines.
Also there is often much to be gained by specialists
learning about and gaining skills in other specialisms.
The project plan:
Needless to say, the project should be established and managed
according to best project management practice, with clear terms of
reference, objectives, milestones, success criteria, reporting
structures, budgets, contingency plans and so on.
It is rare for an innovation and change programme not to
attract dissenters - often people set in their ways or scared of
change. It is
therefore vital that the project communicates effectively, not
only to its senior management sponsors but also with the
organisation at large.
Issues specific to certain aspects of the project are covered
in separate tutorials:
There are though, from experience, a number of general points
helpful to the establishment of a successful project:
1. Create a high level steering group of
These can include senior business managers and
department heads; their participation in a steering group meeting,
say, once per month will both encourage buy-in and help deal with
issues before they escalate.
2. Project intranet:
As has been stressed throughout, any project that
seeks to change aspects of people's lives will attract some degree
of suspicion and even hostility.
There is normally no reason not to share information with
staff at all levels and invite their participation in the project,
and an intranet is both a an effective tool for this and helps to
reinforce the benefits of paper-free working.
3. Project area:
Bringing the project team together and, from an
early stage, practicing what they preach, can help give the
project visibility. As
the work develops, the project area could be used for lunchtime
seminars, vendor demonstrations (furniture, technology, etc.) and
drop-in sessions. As
decisions are taken, for example on colour schemes and furniture,
staff can be invited to register their views.
4. Name the project:
The "flexible working project" or some
other such designation can be a mouthful and might be too
descriptive if the project broadens its remit to address other
issues. Adopting a
distinctive and non-descriptive project name helps avoid this and
creates a branding for the project that can be used internally and
5. Measurement and consultation:
It is important to establish a baseline, against
which the benefits and costs of the project can be measured.
Collecting information on space utilisation, facility and
technology costs, staff turnover, recruitment and training costs,
etc. is vital. Also
consulting with staff, at all levels, for example using the
intranet consultation tool described in chapter 5, can both
collect useful information and help people feel included. Measurement and consultation should continue at stages
throughout the project.
6. Learn from others:
An expanding range of case studies is available
from vendors, journals, conferences and the worldwide web
Also many organisations that have implemented flexible
working programmes are interested in sharing their experiences and
hosting visits. Learning
from the successes and mistakes of others can reduce time and risk
and help ensure a "right first time" solution.
7. Quick wins:
Quick wins are usually solutions to known problems
that can help give the project credibility and support; it is
surprising how often simply bringing together the human resources,
facilities and technology people can identify simple solutions to
problems that have irritated staff for years.
Also the staff survey may highlight an issue, the
resolution of which may have an positive impact way beyond its
These can address both individual aspects of the
project: office layout and practices, paper-free processes,
home-working, flexitime, etc.
Also, usually at a later stage, entire teams or departments
can pilot a full, integrated solution prior to roll-out throughout
the organisation. The
important point is that most aspects of new ways of working can
be piloted and the results from this can help reduce risk, shape
solutions and build staff support.
There is generally no reason to jump directly to a solution
Realising the benefits:
We end with a warning: it is easy call a halt after the new
offices are built and the technology upgraded.
Employees will be happy with their new working environment
and tools and the quality of the shared team facilities will help
dispel any concerns over hot-desking.
Yet the full range of benefits only arises as business
processes, working practices, management style and the
organisation itself change in response to the opportunities of the
In fact, as technology continues to improve, there will not be
a time when the project can be considered complete.
The successful organisations of the future will learn to
innovate continuously, not only in their products and services but
also in their working environments, processes and practices.
our series of articles on implementing a flexible working