[from article published in 24|Housing November 2013]
Mark Evans, commercial director at Imerja, considers how housing associations that fully support remote working can be rewarded with financial gain.
The financial recovery may be underway, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Housing associations (HA) are still feeling the squeeze and facing the age-old challenge of trying to cut costs whilst maintaining a high level of service for their tenants.
Efficiency, as always, is key when it comes to saving money, and it’s important that HAs scrutinise every element of their operations in order to identify opportunities to improve output.
This might mean changing the way the organisation works, or at least part of it, but if the resulting benefit is an improvement in efficiency then the change can usually be justified.
Advances in technology over the last couple of decades have presented many opportunities for business improvements, with government reports suggesting total benefits of more than £3 billion could be gained through the effective use of technology within the housing sector.
With the consumerisation of IT, these advances have created a generation of tech savvy users and consumers that typically have access to several mobile devices and want to be connected wherever they are.
Some may see this as a problem, concerned with how employees may use their devices to access business information outside of the office. But with the right controls and measures in place, the appetite for un-tetheredworking can be a significant opportunity, introducing both efficiencies and cost savings across an organisation.
These days there is a general acceptance, even willingness, amongst employees to work whilst on the go. Support your employees, suppliers and customers in this endeavour and the benefits will follow.
Most HAs have a large number of roaming workers, such as maintenance teams, while office locations are often dispersed across a large geographical area with office workers travelling between the different sites. Improved connectivity and access to resources allows employees to access corporate information and applications while away from the office, providing substantial financial savings through efficiency improvements.
Firstly, the potential improvement to the roaming workers’ day-to-day activities is considerable. Picture the scenario, while finishing one job, an electrician logs on to the HA server through their phone or tablet to find that the next job has been cancelled, but has been replaced by another. Full details and directions – as well as up to date tenant records – are provided, allowing them to continue without delay.
This might not sound like a big difference, but add this up over the course of a year and the number of jobs attended will increase significantly, improving efficiency and therefore saving money – especially for those paying staff according to the number of completed jobs.
On top of this, providing employees with the latest mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, or letting them use their own through a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scheme, has been shown to boost worker morale. Less directly quantifiable, but a benefit nonetheless. Also, providing employees with an allowance to source their own device can encourage staff to keep them in mint condition for longer, reducing device turnover.
For office workers, the benefits of improved, ubiquitous connectivity and access means that they can work wherever they are. They’d be able to have the same experience at the HA headquarters as they would at a satellite office, as well as out on tenant visits through a mobile device. Not just to take calls and exchange messages, but also to view calendars and access up-to-date tenant records in real time.
Again, this ability to work regardless of location and on a range of devices would have real positive impacts on efficiency levels, improving tenant experience while bringing down costs.
Of course, none of this will work without proper planning and a managed deployment. To be effective, a mobile solution requires robust and reliable network connectivity across sites. There are software requirements too, as the applications used by remote workers need to be accessible through a range of devices and properly managed to ensure integrity is maintained.
To make financial gains there does have to be investment in the first place. However, improved delivery in the field and in the office, coupled with long-term cost savings, make it a decision that will pay off handsomely.