In February Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s sixth CEO in five years, made a radical move. Having promised to revive Yahoo’s fortunes and make the company ‘the absolute best place to work’, Mayer surprised many by instigating a ban on remote working. A surprise because, until this point, Mayer’s changes had included making canteen food free, doing away with compulsory gym inductions, handing money back to shareholders, and giving everyone an iPhone.
News of the ban queued a deluge of speculation from across the business technology world. Some leapt to Mayer’s defence, stating she was best placed to make such decisions for her company. Other’s condemned her as short-sighted, even saying she’s dragging the company back to the 1980s.
How things change
From the outside it’s impossible to know whether this will lead to positive change, or simply oust Yahoo’s existing employees who work from home. What the decision definitely does show is just how far technology has developed in terms of flexible working practices. Boil it down, and the ban essentially means Yahoo employees have to show up in the office everyday and spend the majority of time at their desk. Imagine announcing this requirement to your workforce as little as 20 years ago. Technology development has significantly impacted the culture and process of business, and it’s changed it forever.
Unified communication and collaboration (UCC), in particular, is the main technology behind this change. Consider how UCC assists in the working environment in ways not previously possible. Global companies, or even local companies with multiple offices, can bring together teams of talented people, regardless of where they are in the world. These teams can communicate through a plethora of channels – from quick instant messages (IMs) through to immersive telepresence. Each can choose which is best for them so, unlike 20 years ago, it’s not a choice between a phone call, an international flight, or nothing at all.
The fact is, like it or not, modern life has changed. The often touted BYOD (bring your own device) trend is the latest incarnation of this change, and is an indication of what employees expect from potential employers today – and also why Yahoo’s announcement caused so many ripples.
Why can’t we get along without UCC?
The most common gripe against remote working, flexible working, and generally against UCC enabled communication is the perceived reduction in innovation and focus. Yahoo’s internal memo announcing the change explained, ‘Being at Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices’.
Workers supposedly can’t innovate unless they are immersed in the working environment and face-to-face with like-minded people. This doesn’t account for all the activities of individuals who, frankly, don’t need to be innovative day-in, day-out. A large proportion of the workforce primarily needs to be productive and efficient – and the ability to have a video conference with a partner on the other side of the world is far more efficient then spending two days out of the office flying there and back.
UCC is designed to support collaboration between colleagues. This does not mean it replaces face-to-face communication, but there are options between a face-to-face meeting and not meeting at all. There’s a hierarchy of communication, with short messages like texts or IMs at the bottom, rising through email, phone and conference calls, web conferencing and finally video conferencing (for face-to-face meetings where body language and facial expressions are a fundamental part of the conversation). At the very top of this hierarchy is an in-person meeting, but the range of options for effective communication, whether it’s in the home or not, can’t be discounted as simply not encouraging innovation.
How UCC can be a success
Supporting collaboration through UCC does rely on having the right culture and processes in place, Dimension Data recently commissioned research to examine where decision makers who had invested in UCC had seen success, and how employees reported their working lives had been impacted.
The main reasons for investing in UCC technology were centered on improving business productivity, with a strong link to flexible or remote working practices. The responses fell into four categories:
Business process improvement: organisations are looking to UCC to enable business processes and reduce decision making latency (397 respondents)
Supporting flexible working: the reality of working practices seems to be reflected in UCC investment choices (350 respondents)
Increased productivity: it is now a given that UCC enables improved communications among employees, especially those in disparate parts of an organisation or among teams with members around the globe (308 respondents)
Increased business agility: UCC has, until lately, rarely been associated with business agility. The results indicate UCC is seen as supporting the success of the business as a whole, and not just as a productivity or cost saving initiative (302 respondents)
Success of UCC investment was high, with 61% of decision makers reporting measurable cost savings. The most popular measures of success were; successful implementation, employee uptake and employee productivity improvement. The prominence of employee uptake and productivity points to a key learning; the need to solicit opinions from employees before implementing UCC technology, and training them in how to use it. Without training the impact on business productivity will be minimal.
This is especially important in BYOD environments. Very few UCC features, even if well understood and popular, are supported on personally owned devices. Across the board, 25% to 40% of employees report using a UCC feature on their own mobile device, but roughly one quarter state they are not convinced they provide a direct benefit for work. This contrasts with results from users who are provided with a corporate-owned device. At least 20% more users of corporate smartphones, when compared to BYOD employees, report UCC features on such devices are directly beneficial to their work. It’s clear any UCC strategy that includes BYOD should create policies that treat BYOD devices as an integral part of the communication infrastructure.
Successful collaboration is made up of three cornerstones; culture, process, and technology. While a remote working ban may be effective in refocusing a workforce, it comes at the potential cost of a competitive edge in a challenging economic and business climate. Any business, from SMEs to large enterprises, banks and manufacturers, can benefit from providing employees with a choice of how to best communicate and collaborate in the workplace, and supporting them with the most appropriate technologies to do just that.