If you live in the UK, you may have noticed the trend for merchandise based on the old Keep Calm And Carry On propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939. Indeed, on at my desk at home my mug is resting on a ‘Keep Calm And Have A Cuppa’ coaster. In the kitchen we have a canvas stating ‘Keep Calm And Walk The Dog’.

Some members of the British public found it difficult to keep calm last week. The primeval sheep instincts kicked in as the threat (not the actual occurrence) of a petrol tanker strike took hold and caused people to queue up, readying themselves for a crisis which may not happen (and now looks like it won’t). Our government showed their leadership by suggesting that people stockpile fuel in jerrycans, although they later considered it bad advice (mainly because it was). We’re not yet suffering the disintegration of society that created the dystopian world of Mad Max, but you can see how it starts. The day that the last drop of petrol is sold there’ll probably be some trouble kicking off towards the back of the queue.

Our team’s manager was quick to act with better advice – that being to work from home if there was no real need to come into the office. Well, I tend to roll with that flexible working strategy anyway- not because it affords me a lie-in (I wish), but because I can start work at 07:30, avoid the traffic and work undisturbed (apart from the dog barking and Mrs A pushing the vacuum cleaner around, but I can close the door). True, there are some days when it’s useful to be in the office to meet people, but I can plan to do this on particular days.

Key to Microsoft’s flexible working culture is the use of our own technology… Direct Access for access to the Microsoft intranet, and Lync for unified communications. From where I’m sitting now I see five (yes, five) Lync devices… the ThinkPad running Windows 7, the Acer tablet running Windows 8, the iMac (Lync for OS X), the Nokia Lumia 800 (Windows Phone) and finally the iPod touch. Depending on what I’m doing I tend to use the ThinkPad with a speakerphone or the iMac (which doesn’t need any additional equipment), but as was the case yesterday I sometimes use a wireless headset with the tablet. My frolleague Lewis will testify this makes for a great demo – although it isn’t really something a home user would utilise much, it can be a great working model for office workers moving between meetings and locations, and mobile workers who are on-site, in a depot, on the factory floor, on the shop floor, or even using 3G and outside dealing with an issue somewhere.

As flexible workers we have a telephony solution which provides one-to-one and one-to-many telephony, instant conference call set-up and access (none of that “who just joined?” nonsense), video, white-boarding, and application sharing. And of course the presence awareness is embedded in e-mail, collaborative places, search results and web applications for instant access. It’s part of the working culture and we all trust in it.

We live in a world where competitive advantage and speedy resolution of issues are critical to success. Companies need to continue running their businesses without disruption. But disruptions come their way… two years ago it was a volcano (and who’d have seen that coming?), last Winter it was an extended period of snow, and this year we’ve seen that a strike (or even the threat of one) has the potential to disrupt. Yet I still talk to customers who have no unified communications strategy, or have major pieces of the puzzle missing. Unified communications is a major factor for flexible working, and flexible working creates a workforce that is agile, responsive and can continue working through adverse situations. I’ll leave you with two words: business continuity.

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