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247Moneybox thoughts 006: shifting working patterns and practices

Online loans provider 247Moneybox.com has been looking at shifting working patterns and practices in various sectors. The lender hopes to optimise its own set-up to incorporate the latest thinking and trends. Underlining this thought process is the fact that, as any firm's biggest asset, it's important to get the very best out of staff to drive productivity as a way of creating a sustainable business model. It is important that employers working on embracing changing working patterns and the cultural impact they bring.

There a number of ways a business can structure their workforce to achieve similar results. It probably goes without saying that the sector a firm works in dictates the limiting factors to how far that model can be varied. For example, a coal miner is unlikely to execute their job description anywhere other than in a mine. However, where physical interaction is not necessarily required all the time then it is possible to be footloose when it comes to geolocation. For example, a lawyer reading and marking up a contract doesn't need to be next to (or even in the same time zone) as their clients all of the time. Client interaction to take instructions and provide feedback etc. can be quite happily achieved remotely relying on technology as the client firm interface.


New working practices

However, this distribution between a miner and lawyer might not be as distinct as it first seems and certainly in the future, jobs that were assumed to have a permanent requirement to be at the physical location of the job, might not necessarily be the case. For example, with advances in drone technology it's quite feasible that the miners of the future may control mining machines remotely in the same way as tunnel boring machine operators sit at the back of the machine. Remotely may be on site but it could equally be anywhere in the world.

Could the same be said for a pilot? Well yes it already is in a military and intelligence gathering scenario and it's not impossible to imagine commercial flights following suit in the not too distant future. What about other professions or job roles. Well technology can certainly step in to a number of scenarios and where human input is required it can dovetail well however, to say this is the way all work is going is far too simplistic. For example, for some jobs the human is the job. You're not going to get a lot of people turning up to see a play or a football match without any human actors or players!

So where a workforce can work remotely what technology can aid them in this and how can the payday lender 247Moneybox.com embrace that model?

The rise of online everything

The firm originates all loans online. Every interaction can be solely performed in an online environment from searching for the firm using a search engine to applying, pay-out and servicing of the loan. With that in mind what can the firm do with regards to its staff? Could a call centre function with dialler technology whilst not being in the same building? From a technical perspective, very easily and that model exists where the call centre has been located in a low labour cost environment be that in the UK or globally. However, taking that one step further what about if all agents in that call centre were geographically dispersed, would that work? Well again technically that is still feasible and the firm could explore this avenue. If all that is required is a device, a headset and a fast Internet connection then that is very doable. However, the technical aspect is only point to consider.

Security

With the rise of online, hand in hand has come the rise in online fraud. Cyber criminals in a way embody remote working more than any other sector. Global in their location, they are able to penetrate and access systems spanning all types of organisations wherever they exist, exploiting loop holes and weak points to pursue their objective. Where a work force is spread out, so the system they are using will have to consist of multiple point of interface which could present a vulnerability. Bear in mind also that if you have a dispersed workforce then you have increased the potential for human error as a risk factor. No matter how strong or robust a firm's systems are, if an employee leaves their work phone in a coffee shop or a laptop on a train then the firm is at risk.

Social interaction

It's a widely held fact that humans are social beings and that interaction is a key part to survival. In the workplace we've covered the obvious need to have actors on stage or players on a pitch but there is an argument to say that staff need to interact and bond. To achieve a team effect, individuals need to want to contribute to the collective good often over and above what they might normally do if acting for themselves. Integration and interaction can drive this. Managing egos, personal agendas, helping nurture and develop staff is not impossible but it is difficult remotely. When the firm explored hotdesking for non-contact centre staff it put out a survey asking for opinions. The responses made for interesting reading as some were very vocal against hot-desking and working from home whilst others were very strong proponents. Digging deeper some that were against it, felt that they might become alienated and, in a sense, lonely if they didn't have a work environment within which to express themselves. Within the respondents that were in favour many citied long commutes and unreliable transport as dead time.

Conclusion

It could be said that we are at a cross roads moment. Technology may have facilitated working remotely and flexibly but really this is now almost exclusively a cultural discussion for a number of industries. Tension is inevitable as disruptive forces push and pull the debate with winning case studies on both sides. Ultimately a cultural discussion is for the actors in that space to determine for themselves the how, why and where associated with productivity.