Last year, the British Standards Institution (BSI) brought out a new Publicly Available Specification (PAS) to provide a framework for smart working. Laura King looks at what smart working can offer businesses, as well as some of the things managers will need to consider when changing working practices.

The new PAS, PAS 3000:2015 Smart Working, was developed in collaboration with the Cabinet Office to provide mechanisms for a range of actions that will allow organisations to adopt smart working practices. PAS 3000 builds on work the Civil Service is already doing to modernise working practices, but has also been developed in recognition that smart working is becoming increasingly more commonplace in the private sector.

Indeed, smart working has a number of high profile advocates: BT and Unilever are two such businesses, but it is not just the large organisations working smarter. Smart working is particularly attractive for small and medium-sized businesses that are looking for ways to save on overheads and to take advantage of the broader pool of employees that smart working can offer.

This shift from traditional working, whereby everyone has a desk and works standard hours, has been driven by several factors.

  • The technology for smart working is now well-developed, reliable and easy to use.

  • Legislation now allows all employees to request flexible working.

  • Organisations need to do more with less, including saving money on property and resources.

  • It is now widely recognised that employees work better when they are able to work flexibly.

Smart working versus flexible working

It should be noted that smart working is different from flexible working. Flexible working is often written into HR policies and allows employees to alter their established working patterns. Some examples include flexi-time or working compressed hours. Since 2014, any employee who has worked continuously for an employer for 26 weeks has had the right to request flexible working.

Smart working, by contrast, is much more strategic. Instead of an employee requesting a change to how they work, businesses that adopt smart working principles integrate this way of working into the business. Essentially, smart and flexible working becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

What is smart working?

As mentioned above, smart working is strategic not reactive. It is a business-focused way of changing working practices so that, wherever possible, employees can work anywhere, anyhow.

It relies on three key changes.

  1. A change in attitude, so that performance is based on results, rather than attendance and time spent at a desk. This requires trust, but gives employees greater autonomy and discretion about how and where they work.

  2. New workplace design, whereby the location for working is based on the work activity, rather than grouping people based on job title. For example, different work spaces within an office designed for collaboration, confidential, and quiet/individual work.

  3. Embracing new technology that allows work and collaboration with colleagues to be done virtually using the internet and telephone.

Smart working is suitable for almost any business or organisation as there are many functions, such as finance or marketing, which can be done using an online platform. The PAS also makes it clear that even if there are constraints in one area of the business, this should not rule out adopting smart working principles to other areas.

Benefits of smart working

So, what are the benefits of smart working? The three key areas in which benefits are made are the following.

  1. Saving money.

  2. Improving well-being.

  3. Creating opportunities for business growth.

Save money

Perhaps the most obvious driver for smart working is to save money, and one way of doing this is by reducing office space. Studies have shown that at any one time around, 50% of office desks are not used. In many cases, by providing flexible working spaces based on activity, the need for individual desks is reduced and less office space is needed.

Along with a reduced property footprint, cost savings can also be made by reducing bills, as less energy and other resources are needed. Having fewer people in the office also inevitably means moving processes online, and as such, creates less waste.

As well as saving on costs, smart working has a number of benefits for the environment. Waste reduction is one such area, as well as resource efficiency as offices become more streamlined. The second major benefit is reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from travel as, for many, the daily commute becomes a thing of the past.

BT is one organisation that has used a more flexible approach in working to minimise its real estate portfolio. In the publication, Can Homeworking Save the Planet? BT reports that the change has achieved a £500 million reduction in its property portfolio and the reduction in commuting time (estimated at 1800 years) has saved 12 million litres of fuel and reduced CO2 emissions by 97,000t.

Well-being and job satisfaction

Many organisations will report that smart working has reduced absenteeism and has improved levels of job satisfaction (shown by reduced turnover of staff). First, less time spent commuting means that people have more time for themselves. Second, giving employees more flexibility about how and where they get their work done allows them to fit work around life more successfully. Ultimately, this leads to a happier workforce that is more likely to stay with the organisation.

Business growth

Smart working not only means that people are likely to stay with the organisation, it can also increase productivity by giving people more control and autonomy over their working lives. If done properly, this leads to increased trust, a higher degree of ownership, and employees who are more motivated and who perform better.

Being at the forefront of modern ways of working also helps businesses grow by helping recruit and retain talent. Furthermore, offering the opportunity of flexible working means that an employer can recruit from a much larger pool of workers which helps them to recruit the best people for a job and increase diversity in the workforce.

Areas for consideration

Smart working is not going to happen overnight. It requires a shift in thinking and working that can take years to achieve. Some areas that need to be considered before making the change include the following.

  • Initial investment: To set employees up with the tools and technology for remote working will require an initial investment. For this to be worthwhile, it will have to be counteracted by savings made in other areas — for example, by reducing the organisation’s property portfolio and running costs.

  • Workspace design: Careful consideration will need to be given to how any new space is set up so that it is attractive and workable for the workforce.

  • Management and support: Managers must be helped to develop the skills needed to manage a remote workforce. Similarly, staff will need to be given support and to be involved throughout the transition.

  • Health and safety: Appropriate display screen equipment risk assessments must be carried out so that all desks, including home-based desks, can be set up correctly.

  • Technology: Any technology or equipment that is provided will need to be easy to use, fully supported, and regular training should be given.

  • Policies: Clear policies need to be established and enforced — both in the office and for remote working. This includes ensuring that the office space is used correctly, as well as making sure that remote workers understand what is expected of them.

Last reviewed 30 March 2016