Flexible working or just a new treadmill?

Oct 25 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

In the absence of formal policies around flexible working, 24/7 access to company emails and information via phones and BlackBerries could simply translate into round the clock working for some employees, a new report has warned.

Research commissioned by BT suggests that the vision of mobile working as liberating British office workers from their desks and helping them regain control of their lives could turn into a nightmare unless organisations put in place policies and training around new working patterns and mobile technology.

While more than eight out of 10 organisations in the UK provide staff with gadgets to promote flexible or remote working, BT's research found that almost four out of 10 have not backed these up with formal 'working from home' policies while only a third track the impact of flexible working.

As a result, there is a real danger that the ability to work effectively away from the office will only result in staff working harder and longer – particularly since almost eight out of 10 firms plan to invest further in technology to improve mobility.

An official survey earlier this year of 3,000 UK employers with more than 10 staff found that the proportion of workplaces where some staff – but not senior managers – work from home has risen from 16 per cent in 1998 to 28 per cent in 2004.

But as research from Henley Management College has shown, the flexible working revolution poses fundamental challenges to traditional practices as management becomes more about resourcing and measuring results than about discipline.

Without proper guidance around flexible working, companies cannot guarantee increased staff satisfaction and run the risk that employees might even work longer hours, said Gary Bullard, UK managing director of BT Global Services.

"Without training and guidance, employees simply cannot be expected to fully embrace such a different way of working," he said.

"We're still lagging behind our European counterparts when it comes to finishing work on time and businesses need to tackle this. Otherwise, we run the risk that 24/7 access to company emails and calendars via phones and BlackBerries will simply translate into round the clock working for some employees."