Britain's directors embrace flexibility

2006

Britain's company directors have become enthusiastic advocates of flexible working, with almost all working from home on a regular basis and more than three-quarters mirroring this by offering flexible working policies for others in their organisations.

But while a new survey of 800 members of the Institute of Directors (IoD) found that two-thirds believe working from home increased their own productivity, it also revealed evidence of their lingering concerns over the productivity of workers when not physically present in the office.

The results clearly show that the UK has embraced flexible working since the launch of the government's flexible working regulations in 2003, with 98 per cent of IoD members working from home on a regular basis.

To complement this, three quarters (76 per cent) have flexible working policies at their workplace, providing further evidence that it is firmly established on the business agenda.

And with more than eight out of 10 saying that they had a dedicated office or study area at home, employees are clearly set-up for maximising their productivity.

However, the survey, commissioned by business communication firm Avaya, also identified the issues of trust and technology as potential barriers to flexible working.

More than six out of 10 said their corporate culture discouraged flexible working and four out of 10 said they were unable to access their company's corporate network or phone directory from home.

A third also said that they wanted more communication with people in the office or at other locations.

A definite challenge still exists in the UK as flexible working can only deliver and flourish in an environment of trust, with agreed outcomes and performance measures," said Avaya's Stuart Logan.

"Employers have a responsibility to educate their workforce on how best to communicate, to ensure that best practice is followed and communication doesn't become a blockage. Also, to maximise productivity, employees need to be able to recreate the office environment when working from home".

To achieve this, Logan added, organisations have to ensure that effective communication practises are integrated into every aspect of the workplace, whether at home or in the office. Six out of 10 respondents like to dress down and wear casual clothes or jeans when working from home and one per cent confessed to frequently wearing pyjamas. And demonstrating the ultimate example of flexible working, one respondent confessed to having occasionally worked in the bathroom.

Top tips to get the most from flexible working

1. Trust is a critical factor in working from home, it must be earned but just because you can't see someone doesn't mean they aren't working

2. This can be strengthened by agreeing performance and productivity measures that relate to specific outcomes, lessening the need to be constantly in contact with your direct reports. These should be constantly measured and reviewed

3. Create and enforce a policy that identifies how best to communicate with your colleagues when working with them in the office, at home or on the road

4. Having a dedicated work space at home is vital, as this enables employees to focus their work

5. Where possible, employers should provide all the technology and business tools needed to make employees as effective when working from home as they are when in the office – corporate network, email and phone directory are good examples of this

6. Educate employees on the most effective ways to use technology and enhance productivity

7. Share knowledge and resources to promote best practice – develop templates and ensure all employees are fully updated on the latest policies and working procedures 8. Encourage employees to target activities to be carried out in an 'uninterrupted' environment e.g. reading, writing or planning

9. Utilise Instant Messaging technology to have real time contact with team members to improve responsiveness and customer service

10. Regular feedback from managers to employees of their work performance, and raise any concerns about factors connected to working from home