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Work Without Boundaries

Flexible worksites and mobile employees can offer strategic site selection advantages, but business owners must find the right balance.

Mark Dixon, Chief Executive Officer, The Regus Group  (Nov 07)
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Recruiting and Retention Incentives
While cost savings is perhaps the most obvious benefit of a distributed work force, there are other significant advantages that previously have been overlooked by most decision makers. For example, workplace flexibility is becoming a differentiator in the global competition for talent.

As a shortage of skills starts to hit hard in the coming decade and companies battle to acquire and retain knowledge workers, providing a flexible work environment will be as important as delivering a competitive pay package and a stimulating job.

Some employees will want to work from a neighborhood office near where they live, rather than endure a long commute to the corporate campus. Some will want to stay connected while collaborating with clients and employees remotely. Still others will want to work from home on a part-time or even full-time basis.

Employers who offer creative solutions will lead the way in attracting and retaining the most talented workers - the very employees who will help them win the marketplace.

Increased Productivity
The shift to mobile working can even improve productivity. While some managers instinctively assume that employees working away from the office will be less productive, various studies have found the opposite to be true.

In an office environment, it is easy for people to hold unnecessary meetings, attended by employees who have only a marginal interest in the issues. When people work from different locations, holding a meeting means traveling distances - and they will do so only if they are convinced it is worth their time. Similarly, people who work remotely may experience fewer distractions, such as fewer people stopping by their desks to chat or have informal discussions.

The Management Challenge
While the benefits - and the growing business imperative - of providing a more flexible work environment are becoming apparent, managing this kind of change presents several major challenges. To begin with, many organizations lack the necessary experience to manage a distributed work force. For decades, most companies have built and expanded working practices around a business assumption that the bulk of their employees will be in one place at the same time.

There are also challenges from the employee perspective. Many remote workers feel isolated, cut off from the rest of the company, and lacking of the support and professional resources their office-based counterparts enjoy. While their output may increase, they may long for the social interaction and team collaboration that face-to-face environments create.

To overcome these challenges, employers and employees alike must adopt a new mindset regarding remote working.

A true mobile work philosophy goes far beyond allowing employees stay home. Creating an efficient, innovative, and high-performing distributed work force requires two core capabilities: first, a technology and communications infrastructure to keep workers connected - not just to the Internet, but to the pulse and nerve center of the organization; second, the ability to provide office- and community-related services across multiple environments, accommodating home-based workers, satellite offices, and frequent travelers equally.

Most companies aren't meeting both of these needs on their own. And when they are, most aren't doing it cost-effectively. Getting deeply involved in the process of placing and equipping remote workers is a distraction from their core businesses and can be more of a hindrance than a help.

Increasingly, companies are turning to outsourced solutions that allow their employees to work wherever, whenever, and however they choose. Networks of business lounges, drop-in offices and meeting rooms, videoconferencing, virtual offices, and other workplace options enable mobile workers to stay connected, collaborate and innovate in unique ways that work best for them.

Whether it's a startup firm or a multinational corporation, thinking past the outdated notion of "everyone in one place" and embracing the inevitability of a distributed, nimble workforce is what it truly means to work without boundaries. It's a strategic business model that today's talented workers prize, and tomorrow's successful companies will undoubtedly pursue.

Mark Dixon is chief executive officer of the Regus Group, the world's largest provider of workplace solutions. Regus operates a global network of more than 950 business centers in 400 cities and 70 countries. Visit the company website at www.regus.com.
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