The environment that we create for work has such a profound influence on the way we work, it’s surprising how little time we really spend thinking about it. Apart from more sophisticated IT kit (no disrespect to the microfiche machine) and abundance of glass over concrete, many workplaces haven’t really changed that much since the 1960’s.

It’s more than just a pipe dream to believe that in the right working environment you would be free and much more likely to think, create, solve, collaborate, engage – getting things done in the most effective and satisfying way.

Commercial building rents are soaring after a sustained lull, traffic gridlocks are increasing, and the transport network is aching at the seams – all affecting the ability of people to even get to work, and their energy and mood when they finally do. Add to this the sustainability and green agenda and many organisations are thinking differently about what constitutes ‘the workplace’.

These aren’t the only triggers though; rapidly advancing and cost reducing “digitalisation” of working life presents real opportunities for working differently. Information and communications technology advances, such as easy and cheap voice and video conferring from your laptop, tablet or phone, cloud computing solutions that let people access business systems, data and knowledge from wherever they are, apps available to help across a broad spectrum of working life (from deciding who’s turn it is to get the drinks in to appraising investment decisions) all work to break down tradition notions of “the office”.

Many organisations think about changing their work environment and working practices when there is a trigger such as move to a new building, office capacity issues, a requirement to release property costs or some other cost/ efficiency trigger. This summers’ Olympics present another trigger – particularly for organisations based near to the Olympic sites responding to the governments challenge to release transport capacity during the games, but also for those who want to give a morale boost by responding to employee requests to be involved in or watch the games. For many, the Olympic legacy may lead to a sustained performance enhancement if this opportunity is seized.
The Civil Service has used the Olympics as a catalyst for a new way of working – getting people out of Whitehall and enabling them to work from home or from any other government office with a universal pass, introducing joined up technology and new videoconferencing to replace many face-to-face meetings.
It’s not just about psychical changes though – to expand talent pools we need to look across physical boundaries, and appreciate that the people we might want the most are not necessarily those within commuting distance or with commuting ability. BT for example are engaging real life customers worldwide to build new products.
Management practices are fundamental to this new “smart” way of working. In a “Smart” workplace (be it physical or virtual), greater efficiency and effectiveness are the key drivers . This way “Smart Working” is a fundamentally different work experience. Businesses that embrace this create jobs that build autonomy for individuals, teams and organisations to achieve the mutual goal of boosting productivity through engagement. It’s not just implementing flexible working, or flat organisation structures. The defining features of Smart Working are a mind-set and values.

Take Innocent drinks – their vision is to be the most motivated, high performing team in Europe. They give people the opportunity to develop themselves and each other, and reward them when they do so. This approach has resulted in Innocent being awarded The Best Workplace in the UK by both The Guardian and The National Business Award along with a whole selection of other awards. They place a huge focus on development and in giving people the stretch they need in day to day working. They provide great feedback and all staff can expect weekly one to ones with their manager to discuss progress against objectives, share feedback and get some help if it’s needed.

At Capgemini, we recognise Smart Working where we see organisations proactively applying a combination of these levers. To us, Smart Working is about four things:
• Management values: skilled managers, managing by outcome not time in office, enabling a highly engaged, focused and productive team
• High performance work practices and a high degree of employee involvement and consultation, through effective performance management and reward, flat and matrixed organisation structures and building high performing teams throughout the organisation.
• Physical environment innovations: including ergonomic, collaborative and cleverly designed workspaces and flexible working solutions in and out of the office
• Digitalisation -using technology to drive much greater collaboration in the delivery of work, using tools such as mobile technologies, remote access, virtualisation, knowledge management and social networking tools.
Smart Working is a benefit rich area; boosting staff engagement and thereby performance and retention, improving the ability to attract staff, reducing recruitment costs and allowing more targeted recruitment. Smart working could substantially reduce property spend through increasing utilisation of buildings (with associated costs), reducing travel costs and disruption, reducing sickness absence and increasing flexibility in operating hours, in addition to greater collaboration, creativity and innovation – a key differentiator.
In a Capgemini survey, 92% of respondents said that their smart working initiatives had a positive impact on performance. Look around your office….how smartly do you work?