A Step In The Right Direction For A ‘Healthier’ Way Of Working

According to recent research carried out by Loughborough University, sitting too long at your workstation can shorten your life expectancy, through things like increased likelihood of diabetes and heart disease. Among the more off-the-wall ideas being tested to counter this sedentary office lifestyle is a treadmill desk: a desk with a modified treadmill base attached to a counter level work surface.

While this particular solution may take a while to catch on (if at all!), technology that enables greater mobility in the workplace is already widespread in offices across the country – with the benefits going far beyond just burning calories.

Where once employees were truly shackled to their desks by the simple fact there was no alternative to a chunky desktop and a fixed phone, new communication channels and tools, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, have opened the door to a more flexible way of working.

At the heart of this shift is a new generation – Generation ‘Y’ is entering the workforce and mobile technology is already an integral part of their everyday lives. Businesses should embrace this evolution. The millennial generation is used to being connected to friends and family at all times, wherever they may be, and are bringing some of that expectation into their work life.

For them the workplace is no longer a physical, tangible environment – such as sitting at a desk surrounded by four walls, but instead is a virtual one where collaboration and mobility across the business are the norm, regardless of physical location.

Already there are shining examples from global brands that are embracing this idea of the flexible workplace, including for example Lego’s workspace in Denmark as well as our own Vodafone headquarters in Newbury. The advantages of these new offices and workspaces are numerous. By doing away with fixed desks and office walls they reduce hierarchy making for more agile businesses.

Constant access to the cloud enables greater collaboration: you don’t have to book a meeting room to work on a project with a colleague – you just find a space and get going. You can join workmates for a coffee while still remaining fully connected, productive and ‘at work’. By doing away with walls, fixed desks and closed offices, hierarchy is reduced as people come into contact with colleagues from all levels and parts of the organisation.

However, these new and better ways of working don’t stop at mobility within the office environment. It also means being able to extend these working practices beyond the office boundaries. Vodafone’s own research shows 85 per cent of younger people now want to spend between 30-70 per cent of their time working from home.

And this state of mind appears to be spreading to a wider demographic; three quarters of employees say they expect a much more flexible approach from employers. However, it’s not all about employees: there are also serious business benefits to be had from allowing employees to work remotely from wherever they need to be. A majority of employees when questioned said that increased flexibility improves productivity, and most employers who implement flexible working are expecting reduced costs and a more productive business.

From my experience at Vodafone in partnering with businesses of all sizes, I’ve found that the key to moving forward and avoiding going back to old habits of the sedentary, desk-bound office, is firstly ensuring that a workplace culture exists which supports these new ways of working, and then having the technology to enable this culture shift.

It means having the right communications technology, such as ensuring cloud-based applications are available for staff to access and share information remotely, and it means exploring the benefits that technologies like audio and video conferencing can offer. With predictions that mobile Internet will overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014 increasingly likely, the question that needs to be asked is, can any business afford to ignore the new ways of working that technology has created?

Peter Boucher is commercial marketing director at Vodafone UK, where he works closely with businesses of all sizes and from all sectors to help them to find new and better ways of working. He originally joined Vodafone in 2002, and has since served in global brand marketing, as head of marketing for Vodafone live! and as marketing director and chief commercial officer at Vodafone Hungary. Prior to this, he worked in the food production and pharmaceuticals sectors, for companies including Unilever, Kraft Foods and GSK.