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Flexibility and Remote Working Are the New Normal

According to new research by the workplace technology company, Condeco, involving 750 corporate leaders, the rise of cloud computing and teleconferencing represent both the biggest opportunity for growth as well as the most significant organizational challenge to companies around the world.

While recognizing digital transformation as crucial to their future success, 60 percent of those who participated express concern over the speed with which new technologies are reshaping their businesses. They are increasingly preoccupied with issues related to cloud computing, the internet of things, and big data.

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These technology challenges are contributing significantly to the changing nature of the corporate environment, the report finds. Cloud computing, in particular, has made it possible for increasing numbers of employees to work remotely and flexibly – meaning that the central company workspace is rapidly becoming an administrative hub, rather than a traditional central focus where everyone gathers during set hours.

The demands of regulation and compliance are also adding to the burden felt by businesses as they face the future, according to Condeco’s new research paper, The Modern Workplace 2019: People, places & technology.

Condeco report is based on an in-depth survey of business leaders in six countries, backed by qualitative interviews. Respondents overall say the biggest challenges facing their organizations in the next 12 months are a digital transformation (37 percent) and the adoption of new technology (35 percent).

Across all countries surveyed, access to talent supply (26 percent) and regulation and compliance (24 percent) are considered greater organizational challenges than business uncertainty (22 percent), However, for companies in the UK, the lack of clarity surrounding Brexit is keenly felt, with 35 percent of respondents expressing concern over the issue.

Almost half of businesses surveyed (41 percent) say they already offer some degree of remote working, while three-fifths (60 percent) provide flexitime opportunities, allowing employees to choose when to start and end their workday.

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Among the countries in the survey, remote working is particularly prevalent in Australia (45 percent) and least widespread in Germany (35 percent). US businesses were least likely to offer flexitime (49 percent), while those in Singapore were most likely (66 percent).

Asked why they choose to offer remote working, the most common reason was to improve talent retention (52 percent). This was a particular feature in the UK (64 percent) and Australia (75 percent). Reducing office costs (47 percent) and meeting employee demand (45 percent) were the next most significant factors.

Paul Statham, CEO of Condeco, commented: “The research clearly shows that businesses are in the process of transforming their workplaces digitally, which enables them to transform the way that they are used physically.

“Today’s technology allows for space to be used more flexibly and for employees to work remotely. This benefits businesses by maximizing office space, reducing costs and by keeping employees engaged and productive.”

When employees do go into the office, it is most often for meetings with colleagues and customers. Yet the researchers discovered that finding, booking and using meeting rooms is a consistent point of organizational tension, even as more people are working remotely. Fewer than a quarter of those surveyed (23 percent) say that their employees have access to meeting rooms whenever they need them; this falls to 17 percent in the UK and just 9 percent in Singapore.

Only a third of respondents (31 percent) currently use specialist meeting-room scheduling software to help make efficient use of their available space. Some of those surveyed believed that there was an opportunity to use artificial intelligence to book and use meeting rooms more effectively.

Peter Otto, Chief Product Officer at Condeco, said: “AI can release individuals from routine, repetitive tasks at work and free them up for more value-adding and enriching activities. That’s why it is likely to play an important role in meeting room booking software.”

Businesses are only just beginning to realize the extent to which the need for co-workers to meet in person is a thing of the past, as new conferencing systems enable teams to maintain real-time collaboration and conversation across vast distances and multiple time zones.

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“Ultimately new technology will enable businesses to allocate their resources and time more effectively,” added Otto. “There is also a role it can play in gathering data, but companies need to be aware of the ethical and privacy aspects of using it in this way and be prepared to be fully transparent in communicating what they are doing to their employees.”

While a fifth of business leaders worldwide (22 percent) said that uncertainty was a concern for them, more than one-third of British business leaders (35 percent) echoed this. The greater uncertainty felt by UK business leaders is possibly linked to the survey taking place at the height of Brexit uncertainty, a situation which remains unresolved.

Statham said: “Business leaders hate uncertainty and work to eliminate it as much as possible, so it’s alarming to see that this is now a much greater concern in the UK than in the other countries we surveyed. While businesses in other countries are able to focus on priorities such as recruitment, digital transformation, and regulation, UK companies are likely to continue to be distracted by Brexit for at least another 12 months.”

The second-most-common concern for UK respondents is regulation and compliance (34 percent), suggesting that businesses are expecting these to be major issues over the next year.

Looking ahead to the next five years, UK respondents again raised uncertainty as their core concern (38 percent), compared to a quarter of leaders overall who were worried by uncertainty over the next five years (24 percent).

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