By Rosalind Davey Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Gone are the days when office hours were from 9 to 5 and employees spent the working day under one roof. Technology has changed everything and employers who prepare properly for the changes stand to benefit the most. Rosalind Davey, partner in the Employment and Benefits Practice at Bowmans, outlines what employers need to do to manage the risks and capitalise on the advantages of the new world of work.

We frequently hear terms such as ‘the digital workplace’, ‘the Internet of Things’, ‘automation in the workplace’ and ‘the future world of work’ bandied about. But what does all of this mean for your business?

Information and communication technologies have led to significant developments in the way we work. The digital office is becoming the norm and has resulted in more people working from remote locations – the advent of the tele-commuter or tele-worker. This is an exciting new digital world for employees and employers alike. It is critical that employers embrace this brave new world but, in doing so, they must tread with care and make sure they understand the possible traps that may ensnare the unwary.

In order to make the digital world work for your business it is important to have a proper strategy in place.  A good starting point is to analyse your business environment so as to identify your strategic focus and enhance your ability to meet customer demands and other business objectives. The process should also incorporate risk management – recognising the issues associated with operating in the digital world will enable you to identify what steps should be taken to address these risks. Implementing a crisis management plan to deal with virtual business crises is essential for safeguarding your business and your employees.

Take steps to address risks

The next step is to ensure that you put appropriate policies in place to guide the business’s strategy. For example, a communications policy is essential for governing online communications and providing clear guidelines within which employees conduct themselves online. Similarly, a tele-commuter policy should provide guidance on flexible work arrangements, hot-desking, job-sharing and working from remote locations. Further, an IT policy should highlight security protocols and data protection obligations. Policies dealing with automation in the workplace should identify the roll-out of artificial intelligence, robotics and virtual reality so as to provide an understanding of how these technologies will impact on existing career paths.

Once the necessary policies have been developed and implemented, the next step should be to educate your employees on the policies. The aim here is to ensure that employees understand the risks associated with conducting a virtual business, communicating online and implementing flexible work arrangements. Knowing what they can and cannot do in the digital world is essential to minimise business risks such as brand damage arising from inappropriate online communication, data leaks and cyber-bullying.

This process should also be aimed at encouraging a focus on performance output and addressing potential employee dissatisfaction due to the fear that automation in the workplace will result in job losses. Upskilling and reskilling employees to work in the virtual workplace is also crucial.

Policies need teeth

Education and training is, sadly, not enough. In order to properly safeguard your business, you need to ensure that your rules and guidelines, as set out in your policies, are properly monitored and enforced. A failure to enforce the policies may render them redundant.

Operating in the digital world requires dedication, care and effective management. If used properly, the virtual world can eliminate boundaries and enhance business performance but, if the proper precautions are not taken, this could spell disaster for your business.