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Business Management

Klaus Holse (Europe) - Why Europe's Businesses Should Work Smarter, Not Harder

As business owners and leaders we would be foolish not to worry about the European economy. However, we should start to look for the light at the end of the tunnel and find proactive ways to get there faster. The rapid adoption of new technologies such as smart mobile devices, cloud services and social media has fundamentally changed the way many of our employees and customers want to communicate and collaborate and offers us a timely opportunity to take a deep look into how we operate our businesses and find ways to become more agile. We need to work smarter, not just harder, and the most successful European businesses will undoubtedly be those that harness the benefits of the latest technology first and prepare for the journey out of economic instability.

Evidence suggests that small to medium sized businesses could be ahead in doing just that. SMEs appear to be most optimistic about the enormous potential for business growth across Europe through accessing modern technologies. Currently under even greater pressure to innovate to secure their position in the marketplace, SMEs recognize that the prevalence of cloud services and mobile technology means they can now transform their operations and compete with larger organizations on a global level. It is not surprising therefore that in a recent study , SMEs reported they are overwhelmingly positive about prospects for growth, citing technology and cloud computing as key drivers.

Indeed, SMEs were amongst the first to realize that operating their business in the cloud allows them to better meet the changing demands of their customers and knowledge workers by creating a flexible working environment. There is significant employee demand to change work habits across business of all sizes: in a recent survey, three quarters of European employees (73%) said their lives would be improved by flexible work. This makes perfect sense given that eight in ten respondents reported working some overtime every week. On top of that, the average worker spends a substantial amount of time commuting to and from the workplace – 200 hours a year for the average UK worker according to TUC analysis of Office for National Statistics research. Not surprisingly, a flexible working environment has become a key factor to attract and retain top talent.

The good news is that the majority of European businesses leaders recognize the advantages of flexible working practices, with 77% convinced that their flexible workers are also more productive . So if we have the technology, and if employees and businesses are mutually convinced of its benefits, why has flexible work not been embraced on a broader scale?

On closer examination, it appears that although the majority of organizations across Europe (82%) offer flexible working, in practice only 64% of employees report that this opportunity is available to them. This perception gap widens further when we consider that 63% of businesses that allow flexible working say they provide guidelines to their employees, yet only 29% of employees say they receive these guidelines. It seems that many businesses are just paying lip service to flexible working for their employees, and in reality they are not fully implementing the concept as part of their corporate strategy.

Other obstacles become evident when we compare the attitudes of employees and managers.  While 70% of business leaders said they always trust their flexible workers to be productive away from the office, only 52% of employees said the same about their colleagues. Managers are obviously challenged to instil trust at all levels within their organizations for a flexible working environment to flourish. But the productivity benefits of flexible work will only be achieved if employees feel empowered by a trusting environment. Business leaders play a key role in nurturing a corporate culture of trust through openness, transparency and managerial guidance that measures employee engagement by outputs, and not merely by their presence in the office.

If technology is driving a departure from the traditional 9-to-5 office regime, are businesses taking this seriously? A prerequisite to working flexibly is access anytime, anywhere to corporate applications, email, calendars and documents, and the opportunity to share information or work in partnership on documents. However, only one in six businesses provide their employees with a combination of a company laptop, smartphone and remote access to the corporate network. Instead a majority of businesses (71%) allow employees to bring consumer devices into the workplace. It’s great to support employees in using their personal technologies for work, but that’s not sufficient to make flexible working a reality. Clearly, a more strategic approach is critical to meet the needs of the way people interact with devices without compromising on control and security. Businesses can achieve this single view of their infrastructure by adopting a centralized, unified management platform that delivers security to protect the business while also supporting changing work-styles.

IT is the catalyst for new ways of working, but if we want to fully reap the benefits we need to evolve our corporate culture towards a more transparent and flexible organization. Our task as business leaders is to develop the vision, establish the objectives, create the framework and provide the right tools to enable greater collaboration for our employees wherever they are. Working smarter will go a long way to help us take advantage of new technologies. We will be rewarded by happier and more productive employees, the ability to attract the brightest minds, loyal customers and a dynamic growing business. If European businesses are to realize these benefits and gain a competitive advantage, they need to start the journey to the new world of work now.

By Klaus Holse, President of Microsoft Western Europe

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