In the last two decades we have all seen our working environments evolve ever more rapidly. Technological innovation, globalisation, and lifestyle choices have changed the way people live, work and interact with each other.

These societal and demographic changes matched with rapid advancements in technology have allowed us to have a new understanding of what is meant by the workplace, and now, many of us are more agile workers than we could claim to be five years ago. Now, the technology exists for us to successfully meet our responsibilities and do our jobs wherever we are and whenever we need.

I’m a case in point, having started this article at work, I have found myself writing bits while killing time at a coffee shop before a meeting, on the train home from work and finally at home in front of the TV. Without even thinking about it, I am working in a completely different way to how I would have less than ten years ago.

This trend is known as agile or flexible working and although it can be hard to define and means different things to different people, it is clear it takes advantage of a flexible mobile business environment.

This of course has given a number of fantastic opportunities for employees, allowing a balance between work and home life that previous generations simply could not have enjoyed without significant expense. Initiatives such as flexible work hours, working from home and job sharing lead to a significantly higher work/life balance and job satisfaction. Research undertaken by BT highlights the benefits of agile working, noting that flexible workers take less sick leave and stay at the same company for longer.

This increased agility also has the potential to benefit employers from a financially perspective as costs can be reduced for business premises and recruitment spend.  As a result, increasing amounts of large companies view workforce agility as key to the success of their businesses. Sky and Toyota are two notable examples.

Additionally, agile working can be seen as beneficial at a societal level as it affords greater career opportunities to a wide range of people who cannot be office-bound every day. By increasing flexibility in the workplace businesses can allow for greater levels of support from a skilled workforce, for example, increased flexibility in the workplace can ease the transition back to work following maternity leave and make it easier for both men and women to balance their work and family commitments. Flexibility can also be ensured for professionals who have long commutes or people with disabilities that find rush-hour travel difficult (allowing them to work from home occasionally).

Despite these benefits a number of smaller companies are still not making the most of flexible working. From June 30th this year, any worker with six continuous month’s service has the right to request work flexibility. This new ruling empowers 20 million workers in the UK to ask for flexible working hours.

However the directive has also caused smaller companies some concern of how they can offer new arrangements for their staff. In fact recent research by Sage UK revealed that a third of small businesses are not offering flexible working in line with the new employee rights legislation and that 40% of employers feel that flexible working is too expensive to implement.

Nevertheless, I believe that some small changes and deploying the right technology will make a big difference and ensure that both the employee and employer benefit from an agile working environment. With the consumerisation of IT and the ubiquitous usage smart devices, employers that are serious about offering a mobile working environment should look to place cloud computing and mobile technology at the top of their strategic agenda.

The Cloud allows data to be stored and accessed remotely giving employees a greater degree of flexibility to work effectively on-the-go, at home, or at rest in a coffee shop. As long a broadband or 3G/4G connection is available, the barriers to collaboration, to accessing company files or to sending and receiving important business email are removed.

The implementation of easy to use applications offered by cloud computing such as video conferencing, social collaboration, document sharing, and IM applications can quickly become useful tools to meet work responsibilities - given best practice guidance.

Cloud offers the opportunity to reduce the costs of in-house servers and associated energy use and allows a business to deploy IT staff effectively to face forwards in their focus on areas of critical business need. Beyond this, security usually is increased by cloud solutions with the provider ensuring data is encrypted, backed up and stored in a centralised location.

By embracing new and innovative solutions such as cloud and mobile technology, small businesses have an opportunity to offer agile working to their employees, whilst complying with new rules on flexibility in the workplace.  With these outcomes it is no surprise that the vast majority of small companies find that adopting cloud solutions has been a factor in allowing them the flexibility to compete with competitors both large and small.

techUK as the trade association for the technology sector is determined to make tech good for the UK and its population by ensuring that the full potential of technology can be harnessed by organisations small and large. With cloud solutions and the growing number of mobile applications continually being developed, any organisation can take simple and easy steps to ensure they offer a flexible work environment for their employees.

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