By Darren Fields
Over the past few years, there has been much talk about building a ‘work from anywhere’ business culture to reduce costs, boost productivity, and encourage people previously excluded from employment to re-enter the talent pool.
Of course, much progress has been made technically and digitally to enable such transformation, yet on a day-to-day basis, I continue to come across businesses who have failed to make the leap. For those that have, they often wonder why they hadn’t sooner. While most businesses clearly buy into the concept of building a remote workforce that’s not limited to a specific office or location, they just can’t seem to make it a reality.
On a personal level, I’ve observed the impact inflexible working practices can have upon an individual, as well as the myriad limitations it places on a business. My wife, for example, struggled with the logistics of returning to her professional career while our children were young; she was ambitious and keen to re-engage with the workplace, but the lack of flexible working options available, combined with the soaring costs of childcare, made it impossible. Meanwhile, my mother, who’s physically disabled, has so much to offer an employer, but traditional workplace demands have created successive challenges for her, and thus, restricted the career choices available to her.
Without question, more widespread flexible working opportunities could do much to engage individuals who, to date, have been unwillingly excluded from employment, often due to their inability to work from a fixed location. This untapped pool of talent includes people with perfectly valid skills, such those with disabilities and parents of young children, along with individuals who may have retired early, or careers.
According to a study by Citrix and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), if these economically inactive or unemployed individuals were encouraged and helped to return to work, it could potentially could boost the UK’s GVA (Gross Value Added) by up to £78.5bn, adding 4.7% to the UK’s total GDP.
It is, therefore, no wonder that the skills shortage continues to bite in the UK. With employer demand for tech and digital talent routinely outstripping supply, the promise of a ‘work from anywhere’ culture could be a simple way to attract new hires. Above all, it could enable job opportunities to be opened up to workers from all corners of the UK, so that talent is no longer limited to geography. The shortfall of people with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills required by the growing digital economy currently stands at 40,000 and UK employers are struggling to fill 43% of STEM vacancies. As a direct result, 22% of business owners in the UK believe a lack of digital skills in their workforce is holding them back from meeting their full potential, according to a recent report by The Federation of Small Businesses.
The bigger picture is that a more widespread ‘work from anywhere’ culture in the UK could do much to boost the UK economy. The Cebr study, for example, found that the more productive use of available working hours, namely through flexible working, could add an extra £11.5bn per year to the UK economy, the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP.
Increasingly, it seems that we need to talk about how we tackle business culture at its core, so that we can accelerate the adoption of flexible working and reinvent our understanding of the term ‘workforce’. Through conversations with our customers, I know there remains much skepticism and misunderstanding around ‘working from home’, along with confusion over the array of technologies and collaboration tools available. But the solution to productivity isn’t purely technology based; fundamentally behavioral and cultural changes need to take place first, to overcome the traditional work environment.
We have significant work to do before we get there, but I am confident that we have the technology to achieve it (and at Citrix I know for sure we can deliver this). We just need to adjust our mindset and workplace culture first, so that work can fundamentally become something we do, not somewhere we go.
Darren Fields is Regional Director of Sales for UK and Ireland at Citrix.