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July 7, 2012

Communication skills for flexible working

I recently attended the ‘Flex for the Future Conference’ in Birmingham, part of The Manufacturer’s Future Factory series. The event offered a number of presentations from industrial experts offering insights into flexible working; improving performance and reducing avoidable costs through innovations in workforce flexibility.

Event speakers included: Phil Millward (General Motors), Tony Burke (Unite) and Derek McIntyre (Vernagroup). The day culminated in a fascinating presentation from Dr Wilson Wong (The Work Foundation) who spoke about future best practice in flexible working given the shifts in technology, social expectations and the balance of value added manufacturing.

Dr Wong spoke of the role that technology will play in facilitating flexible working and virtual team practices in the future, but warned that the same technology will also present a risk to our sense of identity. He also expressed the view that high-value manufacturing would not continue to reside in the UK unless we address the balance between skills development and investment in the infrastructure needed to utilise technological advancement. He predicted that by 2030 the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will wield greater economic might than the developed nations of the G20.

This certainly resonates with the findings of the MacLeod Report (published in 2009) advocating closer engagement with employees to unlock their full potential. Employee engagement will lead to increases in productivity, absenteeism rates, innovation and competitiveness.

How this is achieved is less clear. However, effective communication strategies play an integral part in engaging employees, both in terms of providing clear leadership but also in giving the workforce a voice. Both of which are important factors in unlocking the potential of your employees.Virtual team

Another theme that crops up regularly in the Macleod Report is flexibility. A flexible and entrepreneurial approach to job organisation, working practices and philosophy are encouraged to both remain competitive during times of economic uncertainty and to be dynamic in the good times.

Decentralisation of the organisation and networked working are expected to drive employee led innovation in the UK. A recent survey undertaken by TNS Global suggests that over 35% of employees feel that remote working “erodes team spirit” – a figure that rises to 55% in Germany. Given this perception, a move to virtual teams and decentralised teams will place ever greater demands on the communication channels within the organisation in order to maintain a shared sense of purpose when striving to achieve business objectives.

A number of speakers also discussed the challenges faced by UK manufacturers in securing workers with the skills that their businesses need. The lack of domestic skills available in the UK will likely see a continued increase in cultural diversity within the workforce, placing even more pressure on effective intercultural communication skills within the organisation. It seems certain that the way in which we work will change over the next ten to twenty years. The businesses that will succeed in this changing environment are those that have committed and creative employees.

Optima Training work with forward looking HR departments to create cohesive staff development strategies. We help to create a committed and flexible workforce through improved communication skills, cultural awareness and development of integrated learning policies.

Did you know?

  • 61% of employees want to work flexible working hours
  • 60% of employees want to be measured in terms of quality of work rather than time spent in the office
  • 43% of employees feel pressured to work longer hours

Figures from ‘The Evolving Workforce: The Workforce Perspective’, TNS Global (2011)