2013 will be a challenging time for housing providers as they face continuing funding cuts and the introduction of universal credit. Added to this is an increasingly ‘tech-savvy’ workforce wanting the flexibility to choose how, where and when they work. However, we see access to technology as a real opportunity for organisations to thrive, stand out from their peers and continue to meet tenants’ needs by delivering more for less, despite the challenges that lie ahead.
2012 was a year of momentous events which put the UK centre stage and the British public felt compelled to attend. This presented an additional test for businesses, and housing providers were not alone in having to tackle issues of continuity of service at a time when many staff were out of the office or even struggling to get into work due to overburdened transport networks.
Having previously toyed with the idea of flexible working, the events of last summer forced many companies to seriously consider this as a viable alternative to offering a skeletal service during the busy months. For some, this practice was merely a short-term option to see them through the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games, but others saw the real advantages of greater mobility and flexibility in the workplace. It was a summer of success on both fronts, and for the housing sector in particular, flexible working proved to offer immeasurable benefits in the delivery of services. Now, with the additional challenges that lie ahead for the housing sector, flexible working may really present itself as a permanent solution to help organisations push ahead.
The drive for change
Rather than coming from the top down, the move for flexible and mobile working has arguably been driven by employees themselves; great news for housing providers wanting to introduce a new era of work and implement change. In 2012, many housing providers reported that their staff were using their own devices – tablets, mobiles and laptops – to access work applications, reflecting the wider ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend.
Some 69 per cent of employees have admitted to working from their personal devices, thereby increasing the amount of time spent carrying out their jobs by seamlessly offering the ability to continue working while travelling, at home or on the move.
In reaction, housing providers have been quick to support the BYOD trend as more and more organisations have seen the added cost-savings it brings. We recently worked with one housing provider to help it downsize its head office to such an extent that it only had permanent desks for 40 per cent of its workforce; the other 60 per cent now hot-desk and mobile work. This approach can really set organisations apart from their peers and is a great way to prove that they believe in a more hands-on approach instead of expecting tenants to do the legwork when it comes to interacting with their housing provider.
Changes to the benefit system will mean that mobile working will become even more widespread in order to meet tenants’ needs too. The exact ramifications of the introduction of universal credit obviously remain to be seen, but it is already evident that housing providers will be faced with additional challenges when it comes to operating smooth payment systems.
With talk of tenants being only able to make universal credit applications online, it is quite possible that they will want their housing providers to help guide them through this process. This is where mobile working will have a direct benefit to tenants. Some tenants may have never used the internet before while others simply don’t have the means to get online. One way for housing providers to tackle this is to take the internet direct to their tenants. Certain organisations have already trialled this through the use of mobile devices such as tablets which housing officers can take with them when visiting tenants.
In order to enable flexible and mobile working, which is being driven organically by employees themselves, by housing providers under pressure to cut costs as well as the future needs of tenants, housing providers must ensure that their IT systems are up to the task. A virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) may be the first step in creating a more mobile environment. VDI removes processes from PCs to a central location which means staff can access the same desktop from any location, on any device.
As well as being very convenient, VDI is also an efficient option for organisations keen to cut costs by, for example, vastly reducing the management overhead of their current PC estate and having a single virtual image to manage. By removing the processing element, VDI can speed up outdated computers and often makes old kit run like new, thus extending the lifespan of the devices and also helping many organisations with the impending end of life of Windows XP. The other benefit of VDI is that mobile devices can act as a portable interface for all on- and off-site activities, with the added advantage of offering rock-solid business continuity if staff can’t make it into the office.
The BYOD culture of 2013 is likely to accelerate the adoption of VDI as housing providers look for a more solid approach to delivering service to their tenants. It is likely that this will lead to organisations moving to a centralised virtual network infrastructure, meaning that staff can operate much more flexibly, safe in the knowledge that all data is being backed up securely off-site. But in order to achieve this, organisations must ensure their IT provider has a credible solution that prevents data leaks and monitors end-user behaviour, as well as protecting against outside threats.
A holistic approach
Mobile working is suited to any organisation, giving them the power to help staff negotiate changes in legislation but also giving them the ability to work flexibly and thus improve productivity. Not only does this approach boost the brand’s standing in terms of clients and shareholders, it is also a real attraction for potential employees. The most talented jobseekers often stipulate exactly what type of working environment they are looking for, with many opting to join the most flexible workforce. Having constant access to full business systems and being able to decide how and when to work is a great attraction for today’s generation of workers. The holistic, forward-thinking approach to a changing work environment may initially present a challenge for housing providers, but it is one they should fully embrace if they are to thrive in 2013.
Mark Summers is head of technology sales at JMC IT.