Management mistrust hampers flexible working


The greater adoption of flexible working is being hampered because the overwhelming majority of Britain's HR managers still view remote working as a euphemism for shirking.

A survey by business communications provider Inter-Tel found that more than nine out of ten HR directors think that employees who work from home are more likely to take advantage - even thought they accept that flexible working brings enormous benefits.

The basic lack of trust managers have in their workforce is borne out by research by Brunel University that found almost half (45 per cent) of SMEs keep their staff under consistent supervision with only one in ten letting employees work when and where they want to.

Yet despite their prejudices, the Inter-Tel's survey of more than 300 companies found that six out of ten HR managers acknowledged that flexible working brings better workforce motivation and reduced stress, while half accept that it delivers happier workers and greater productivity.

Inter-Tel's Chris Harris said: "This schizophrenic attitude towards flexible working seems to stem from the fact that HR directors are unaware of how to track the way flexi-workers spend their time.

Significantly, he added that the survey had also highlighted that almost one in five said they had no idea how they would monitor the performance and productivity of flexi-workers.

One in five also believed that managing remote employees was simply too difficult.

The findings echo research commissioned in 2003 by technology consultancy LogicaCMG that revealed 45 per cent of HR directors were concerned about their employees’ self-discipline to work effectively whilst out of the office. This mistrust was exacerbated by the fact that 46 per cent of companies said that they had no way of ‘monitoring’ mobile workers.

Earlier this year, Inter-Tel also found that more than one in three firms felt that their business model precluded flexible working while one in five cited a perceived difficulty in managing remote employees as being the main barrier to its adoption.

The latest research backed up these findings, with organisations afraid that adopting flexible working practices would require too much process re-engineering and too major a change in company culture.

But Harris said that such objections were largely groundless: "In reality most companies already have the technology on site. They just don’t have the know-how or time to exploit it."