We love our buzz-phrases in HR, don't we? From ‘Human Capital’ to ‘Talent Acquisition’ and the government-inspired ‘Skills shortage’, the industry seems to delight in creating these zeitgeist phrases that define a way of thinking or a way of working. The latest of these, and perhaps the buzz-phrase of 2009 is ‘smart working’, and could define the way we work over the coming years.
So what is smart working?
According to a recent CIPD study, smart working defines an approach to working that focuses on output rather than input. In other words, the focus is less on how you get the results, more on the results themselves.
So how is this really different to what we’re doing now? In all organisations, results are what matter, so surely we’re all applying ‘smart working’?
However, organisations are already claiming that they have implemented ‘smart working’ policies and that they have made a positive impact on employee engagement, productivity and their bottom line.
So, smart working initiatives include:
- Flexible working – both in terms of working hours and location
- A greater degree of autonomy
- Virtual teams
- Increased mobile communications technology
- Aligning personal objectives to business objectives
- Creating the cultural conditions for smart-working to work
Can anyone do it?
The short answer is, in the words of Vicky Pollard, “yes, but no”. Yes, any business can introduce smart working to some degree, but no – not anyone can introduce smart working without considering their own business conditions and whether initiatives such as flexible working or home working will be of any benefit to the workforce. HR, therefore, is highly implicated, underlining the function’s strategic importance to business performance.
Any business can introduce flexibility and autonomy to some degree, however. Smart working initiatives don’t just accept the changing role of technology in our working lives, they allow HR teams to take control of them in order to maximise business efficiency and performance.
The CIPD’s employee relations adviser, Mike Emmott, warned that smart working is more than just flexible working, hot-desking or new IT systems:
Smart working is about a fundamental change to the assumptions that shape the working relationship.Mike Emmott, CIPD
In other words, if you are going to introduce more flexible working practices, then your business – from top management down – has to adopt a more flexible approach and even a more trusting culture, giving autonomy and in effect giving up a degree of control over employees in return for better performance.
Smart working - an example
A good example of a creative smart working initiative comes from York, where electricians and heating engineers were given a 'bank reserve' of 100 hours 'on account'. Employees would only have to work them if productivity or quality fell below an agreed level. The 100 hours were paid in advance to the employees.
This initiative benefits not only the employees - who are happy with their pay structure and the added responsibility, but the employer, who can adapt to seasonal fluctuations in demand while seeing greater productivity.
The changing world of work
The UK workplace has changed immensely over the last few years, and smart working is a smart – if currently a little vague - response to those changes. With the emergence of “Generation Y”, the rise in requests for part-time and flexible working to fit around personal lives and the boom in mobile technology, businesses who fail to adapt will eventually fail to keep up.
And that’s not smart.