For decades, we've talked about creating gender equity through the empowerment of women in the workplace. Having children is a significant life milestone, but one where the gender gap at the workplace widens. This has been noted in many studies. For example, as per a report by Kelly Global Workforce Insights (KGWI) on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics), women in India tend to drop out of workforce at key phases in their lives, most notably around their childbearing years and later at mid-management levels. However, this can change with technology advances enabling more companies to offer flexible working, making it easier for women to return to work sooner after having children, if they wish, and thereby potentially narrowing the gender gap.
For too long, "flexible working" has been limited to being the ability to work from home or from the office. In "The Changing World of Work", a Polycom global survey of more than 25,000 workers around the world, flexible working is becoming the basis for truly digitally transformed businesses.
Flexible working is evolving to include the concept of "anywhere, anytime working." It's about making your working hours as productive as possible, no matter your location of choice...
Today, flexible working is evolving to include the concept of "anywhere, anytime working." It's about making your working hours as productive as possible, no matter your location of choice—a conference or huddle room, a local café, airport or choosing to live in an entirely different location to your workplace to achieve greater work-life balance. It also means providing flexibility equally within the workplace, regardless of whether your demographic is a working parent, baby boomer or millennial.
Is gender an issue?
But now it's time for the conversation to extend beyond managing the needs of parents returning to work or "working mums." Is it time to consider flexible working equality for all, regardless of gender, family commitments or stage of life?
At my workplace, I know we have crossed this gap. Recently, I attended a quarterly business review where a new baby was asleep in her father's arms. We do these meetings by video, as it's much more productive, so we could see exactly what was going on. More importantly, no one blinked or thought the situation was unusual and business carried on as normal. Had my colleague, a new father, been unable to solve conflicting demands in this way, we would have lost his insight and intellect from the meeting. Instead, he could participate while also participating in childcare responsibilities—a key element to gender equality.
Recently, I attended a quarterly business review [over video] where a new baby was asleep in her father's arms... no one blinked or thought the situation was unusual and business carried on as normal.
Modern workplaces need to empower both men and women to embrace a "work anywhere" ethos. When you achieve a workplace culture where it is considered normal for employees to balance work with family, further studies, hobbies, and other ambitions, it changes the dynamic of work for all employees, regardless of gender.
However, there is still more to be done. While Polycom's survey found that nearly two thirds of the global workforce takes advantage of anywhere working, employees still have concerns about its impact. Does this flexibility mean employees need to work longer hours? Would they still be considered equally for promotion? And how can people build effective networks and relationships, which are considered key elements to career success?
How to embrace "anywhere working"
Most business leaders will agree that technology can change how and where we work—when embraced in the right way. Technology innovation continues to improve making collaboration from anywhere possible with advanced noise reduction (great for reducing the sounds of boisterous children, barking dogs or background chatter in a café), content sharing capabilities, and providing the same user experience regardless of device, location or scale. According to Polycom's Changing World of Work survey, despite a huge number of companies (91%) in India offering flexible working arrangements, 63% of the respondents believed that clear HR policies and guidelines were necessary to ensure everyone enjoys the benefits responsibly and fairly.
Providing the right work environment and HR support to empower a workforce to work from anywhere is one step towards narrowing the gaps in gender inequality—to the benefit of all.
For anywhere working to be successful, the right technology—particularly video collaboration—is crucial. The big difference for me has been working with high-definition video. In today's modern workplaces "close enough" is simply not good enough when business outcomes depend on being able to collaborate and work together effectively regardless of location. According to the survey, in India, 86% of the working population have a colleague based in a different location and video collaboration is a significant accelerator of relationship-building when it comes to anywhere working. Given my previous experience of working with low-quality consumer-grade video, there is certainly a difference in the potential outcomes you can achieve—whether you want to ensure your communications are not lost in translation or you want to be assured of high quality and secure virtual meetings.
Leaders and companies can provide a work environment that is equally attractive to both men and women. This not only enables life choices... it retains talent and builds a culture of trust.
In large countries like India or China where teams are often geographically dispersed, the ability to build stronger human interactions are crucial to success.
For me personally, one of the added advantages of video technology is seeing people's quirks and understanding them on a deeper level in our daily interactions. I can see when a team member is unwell or tired or enthusiastic about an idea. I also get to see their choice of décor and sometimes I'm lucky enough to get a glimpse into their family life! The only impact on my professional networks and relationships is making them deeper.
Leading by example
Anywhere working means just that. Leaders and companies can provide a work environment that is equally attractive to both men and women. This not only enables life choices (whether this is choosing to be on the job for 20 hours a day or staggering a working day to make time to attend a child's concert or care for ailing parents), it retains talent and builds a culture of trust.
Our adoption of "anywhere working" retains talented people even if they choose to move cities and become full-time remote workers like my Director of Campaign Management did!
I'm often asked how I lead by example when it comes to encouraging anywhere working within my team. My marketing team is spread across Asia Pacific—from India to down under Australia and New Zealand, up to China, Japan, South East Asia and Korea—and they are all empowered to work how and where they want thanks to our daily use of technology. Our adoption of "anywhere working" retains talented people even if they choose to move cities and become full-time remote workers like a key member of my team, the Director of Campaign Management did! It also means I can collaborate seamlessly with my peers in Europe and America.
In some cultures, being in the physical office is still seen as important, but anywhere working means that with the right support an employer can be a model of the way forward, should they choose. The key is that rewarding people shouldn't be based on office hours, but measured on results and contribution, while encouraging them to find that same balance that you want to achieve as a leader. Providing more flexibility in work location without compromising on business results can help us cross the inequality chasm, which ultimately is liberating and valuable for all, regardless of gender.