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Emma McGuigan

Managing Director, Technology at Accenture

In the blue corner

Given Accenture is such a firm advocate of flexible working, you might imagine our offices are silent, sparsely populated places. Or wonder if we have office space at all. On the contrary, our offices are busy, vibrant places.

Karen-chisman-sas-uk-80x80

Karen Chisman

Head of Corporate Services at SAS UK

In the orange corner

At SAS the emphasis is on ‘people’ and, as some of the drivers for change we have already written about gain momentum, our employees will be at the heart of how we respond. Virtual and remote working, instant messaging, videoconferencing and so on have their place and are utilised at SAS. However, we believe there is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

Madeline-bennett-v3-and-inquirer-editor-80x80 moderator

Madeline Bennett

The INQUIRER Editor

Moderator

Will a move to remote working lead to companies outsourcing your job? Is remote working the answer to the UK’s housing shortage?

Detailed statements

Emma-mcguigan-accenture-80x80 Proposer
Emma McGuigan

Managing Director, Technology at Accenture

Given Accenture is such a firm advocate of flexible working, you might imagine our offices are silent, sparsely populated places. Or wonder if we have office space at all.
 
On the contrary, our offices are busy, vibrant places. They are, however, very different from the formal working environments typical of late twentieth century businesses. They have become creative hubs where people go to collaborate and work on projects surrounded by colleagues.
 
Flexible working doesn’t signal the end of the office, but it has led to a dramatic shift in working practices over the last 10 to 15 years that has impacted how organisations design their office space. For example, a global team that previously scheduled a monthly meeting and weekly catch-up now uses technology tools to connect with each other in real time, regardless of their location. Flexible working can also mean faster working.
 
This shift gives people the ability to work where they choose in the most efficient, effective way, making the most of the technology available. For many employees, that means combining different options. On some days, they’ll experience the buzz and face to face interaction of an office, and on other days they’ll take advantage of the different benefits of working from home – fewer disturbances, no commute, and being able to connect with colleagues in different time zones.
 
Some sceptics may claim performance suffers when people work remotely, and that too many people can’t be trusted. Yet we believe empowerment helps drive performance and that giving people more control over their working environment helps them reach their potential, increasing engagement and creating a positive impact on productivity. Accenture maintains a results-driven business, in which we don’t need to dictate where employees work to deliver these results. People throughout the company are held to the same standards of high performance – whether they’re working from home, travelling, at client sites or at permanent office locations.
 
Successful remote working requires support and training, and some roles are more flexible than others. At Accenture all flexible working requests are considered on an individual basis, balancing the needs of employees and those of our clients. Beyond equipping people with technology tools, we offer training on topics such as managing virtual teams and successful home working, while a dedicated portal provides information on flexible working with advice for employees and line managers alike.
 
Virtual working may not suit all organisations - some don’t feel comfortable with it from a cultural perspective or it’s not an option due to the nature of the company’s work. For Accenture, flexible working is a key component of a dynamic, thriving workforce that supports our ability to run a truly global business and serve clients all over the world.

Karen-chisman-sas-uk-80x80 opposer
Karen Chisman

Head of Corporate Services at SAS UK

At SAS the emphasis is on ‘people’ and, as some of the drivers for change we have already written about gain momentum, our employees will be at the heart of how we respond. Virtual and remote working, instant messaging, videoconferencing and so on have their place and are utilised at SAS. However, we believe there is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction and with that the ability to read non-verbal communication from people, often more insightful than the spoken word.

Our chief executive Jim Goodnight recently commented, “We just really believe in face-to-face communication, running into each other in the corridor, sitting down to lunch with somebody or a casual discussion in the break room: it means so much more for productivity and innovation."

Earlier this year SAS, as well as ranking 29th in the Top 100 Best Companies to Work For 2012 by The Sunday Times, was also awarded The Sunday Times special award for Innovation in Engagement Practices. The judges highlighted our innovative and creative approach to employee engagement, including the 'SAS Pageant' where our employees worked with professional actors to perform the story of the Wittington Estate in Marlow. In our previous submission we wrote of a transition from working places to meeting spaces, and the SAS Pageant was just one example of this. We regularly host exceptional events and meetings both for our staff, as enablers to social interaction, and our clients. Games of cricket or five-a-side football are commonplace, as are numerous social groups like our photography club and charity activities.

For SAS, flexible working is about choosing a location that best suits the role performed by the employee and his/her requirements to get the job done. This of course can mean working from a variety of locations during the day, be that on the move, from a central hub, a coffee shop or at home if need be. What we are keen to encourage is interaction, clear communication and the avoidance of isolation so often associated with remote, lone or home working practices. At SAS it's about finding the right balance of physical meetings and working elsewhere, whilst ensuring that staff are fully equipped with the necessary training, skills, technology and, most importantly, that they are trusted to make informed choices.

We will take care not to overlook one of the key challenges, managing the transition to new ways of working, and our priority is to bring our people into that process and provide the tools, training and support to successfully adopt these new working practices.

Madeline-bennett-v3-and-inquirer-editor-80x80 moderator
Madeline Bennett

The INQUIRER Editor

Will a move to remote working lead to companies outsourcing your job? Is remote working the answer to the UK’s housing shortage? These are some of the questions posed by INQUIRER readers during our office vs remote working debate so far.

In her opening statement, Emma McGuigan said that the nature of Accenture’s business – consulting and technology – lends itself to virtual working, as many of its employees travel regularly and work on-site with clients. But does this mean that firms not embedded in the technology industry should offer less remote working opportunities to staff?

Will a move to remote working lead to companies outsourcing jobs? As Karl pointed out: “If you can do your job remotely, there is a person in India that can do that same job, for much less money. I was a virtual support tech for 10 years, then I got the call from management that the company was going to a 'Follow the Sun' support model, which is just another way of saying we are off-shoring your job.”

And how can Sam work effectively if not in an office? “For technical reasons, I need to be in the office for to make use of high-speed data access and HPC. Can someone provide a reliable solid 1Gbps download at home for £10 a month? Heck, can we get a reliable mobile 5Mbps download with zero disconnections while commuting outside the city limits?”

SAS's Karen Chisman maintained that workplaces need to be overhauled and redesigned to support engagement in multiple activities. But is this something every firm needs to do, or are there business models that should retain a traditional office setup?

And if we get away from the office model completely, MH noted that remote working could be an answer to the UK’s housing shortage: “The main driving factor for me to work remotely is that if I can choose where I live to get to the ‘office’, I stand more chance of being able to afford to buy a property, and in recession-hit Britain that's a major consideration. Right now, I'm in Surrey where there are jobs (and my existing office) but I don't have a hope in hell of buying a property. The region is overcrowded, polluted and unsustainable.”

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