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Suddenly, work gets flexi

Leading businesses call for greater adoption of flexible working practices gets support from the Government.

Leading businesses call for greater adoption of flexible working practices gets support from the Government. Organisations such as Business in the Community, Microsoft, Nuffield, Regus and Vodafone are joining forces to launch ‘Anywhere Working’ consortium, backed by the Department for Transport.

Transport Minster Norman Baker has announced the formation of the ‘Anywhere Working’ consortium in a speech given in central London yesterday (17 November 2011). The consortium has been formed to help British employers understand the benefits of providing flexible working environments and to enable employees to access the tools that they need to work in a more flexible way. The founding members of the Anywhere Working Consortium have also pledged to educate organisations on the available technologies and resources to support the ability to work away from offices and promote alternatives to travel.

The consortium’s founding members are Business in the Community (BITC), Microsoft, Nuffield, Regus and Vodafone. The initiative is backed by the Department for Transport (DfT), Transport for London (TfL), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Organisations from the energy and hospitality industries are also in talks to join the consortium, with the intention of promoting the ideals of flexible working as comprehensively as possible.

Following a planning period throughout November and December 2011, the consortium will launch an online hub of resources for organisations in January 2012, which will include training, trial technology, best practice case studies and special offers on products provided by the consortium members. This is to be followed by a series of interactive events for employers and employees during Anywhere Working Week, which will take place in February 2012. During this week the consortium will announce a series of mechanisms for measuring and bench-marking the cost, time and carbon savings achieved as a result of organisations embracing Anywhere Working. In the meanwhile, companies and individuals can record their interest and receive further information at BITC’s ways2work portal ways2work.bitc.org.uk

For employers, flexible working has proven to deliver tangible benefits. The ability to work in a variety of locations can reduce business travel costs and increase productivity, in addition to reducing employees’ stress and absenteeism; and can enable employees to be closer to customers and partners.  It also provides organisations with contingency plans for disruptive events, both foreseen and unexpected. Whether these take the form of nationwide issues such as the disruption caused by severe weather; are regional issues – such as the 800,000 visitors a day expected in and around London during the Olympics; or are personal issues such as a broken down car or boiler, disruptive events block productivity and cost businesses time and money.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “In a world where communication technologies offer the means to travel around the world in an instant without travelling at all, encouraging individuals and business to think flexibly about what ‘being there’ means is simply the smart thing to do. The advantages are undeniable – productivity and efficiency savings, a reduced carbon footprint, employee wellbeing – and are for both companies and their workers.  And they will be particularly valued during periods of severe winter weather or the 2012 Olympic Games. As a willing advocate for the virtual transport industry, I wholeheartedly support the Anywhere Working consortium.”

Factors combine to make flexible working imperative
The consortium has been formed to better inform and support organisations as to how they can make new work practices benefit them and their employees, especially in the current business climate. The members of the consortium believe that a combination of economic, environmental and social factors have elevated the issue of flexible working to becoming critical to employer profitability and employee well-being.

“The ideals of the Anywhere Working consortium make sense for businesses, employees and the planet,” said Gordon Frazer, Managing Director at Microsoft UK. “Despite the economic backdrop, many organisations still encourage their workforce to frequently travel across the country for meetings. This is often an expensive, inefficient use of time which has adverse effects on both employees and the environment. The most productive, most competitive organisations are the ones whose employees feel most in control of their own time. These organisations make the best use of today’s technology in order to become collaborative, flexible and dynamic, no matter how geographically dispersed their employees are.”   

The case for flexible working from an employee and employer perspective is clear. A poll conducted by the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) found that 36 percent of workers would like to be offered more flexibility by their employers[1]. Indeed, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Managing Tomorrow’s People”, found that 47 percent of more than 1150 UK professionals surveyed rated flexible working arrangements as their most important benefit[2]. These issues can have a clear knock-on impact upon factors which influence the business’ success, including staff retention, motivation and commitment.  

Leading figures herald the importance of Anywhere Working
The consortium has received widespread backing from senior figures across British industry and representative groups. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Many office workers would welcome new ways of working that cut the need to travel to work, as commuting can be the most frustrating part of the day. Smarter working must be part of the modern economy. Many employees want greater access to flexible and high quality home-working and employers should do more to provide it. More flexible working patterns can also broaden access to a wider range of jobs for those unable to travel from home. Employers, unions and government should consider how they can work together to reduce the pollution and congestion that stems from the staggering 100 million hours per week that we spend just getting to work and back.”

Peter Kelly, Director of Enterprise from Vodafone UK, commented: “For many people in the UK, the way we work is changing. Now more than ever, British businesses need to be agile, flexible and responsive and have the ability to work from anywhere, anytime. This is essential if they’re going to continue to remain competitive in challenging economic times. Therefore, finding ways to effectively harness communications technology to the benefit of businesses and employees should be high on the list of priorities for UK employers. We fully support the Anywhere Work initiative as we know from our own experience of working with businesses of all sizes, embracing technology and finding new ways of working can help them to thrive, grow and meet the changing expectations of employees and customers.”

Mark Dixon, CEO of Regus, notes: “With the ever increasing cost of energy, it’s financially impractical to expect vast numbers of people to commute often long distances to fixed locations day-in, day-out, even more so given the globalised, technology enabled nature of today’s business world.  The fixed location, traditional office is an anachronism, and should be as alien to today’s business as the slide rule is to accountants. I welcome the Anywhere Work initiative – it’s a 21st century approach to 21st century challenges.”  

Business in the Community Chief Executive Stephen Howard, commented: “We fully embrace and support Anywhere Working and the use of technology to help people and organisations to work more effectively. Through our National Business Travel Network ways2work campaign we are influencing behavioural change which is enabling organisations to achieve maximum productivity and resource efficiency by transforming the way they work and travel”.

[1] blog.youatwork.com/category/flexible-benefits/

[2] www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/managing_tomorrows_people.html

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