UK must work smarter to compete

2006

The UK will find itself at the mercy of China and India's tiger economies unless organisations adopt better working practices, according to the boss of one of the country's largest companies.

Sir Christopher Bland, head of telecoms giant BT, delivered the stark warning at the launch of Work Wise, a new initiative to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible working, remote working, mobile working and working from home.

Asian economies are investing so heavily in technology and education that they will outstrip anything we have seen to date both in terms of reduced costs and product differentiation, he said.

"We will be left standing if we don't change our cost structures," he added.

In response, he said, BT is undertaking a complete transformation of the way it operates, shedding bureaucracy and unnecessary control as possible and encouraging thousands of staff to adopt new working practices.

"We already have more than 11,500 home based workers, tens of thousands of nomadic workers and millions of customers who either already do, or soon will, work in this way," Sir Christopher said.

Work Wise UK is a three-year initiative set up by IT Forum Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, which aims to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible, mobile, remote and home working

Backed by a coalition of business groups, government and trade unions, it is hoped that encouraging organisations to adopt a new approach to working lives will increase business productivity and competitiveness, reduce transport congestion and pollution, improve health, assist disadvantaged groups, and harmonise work and family commitments.

Sir Digby Jones, Director General of the country's largest employers' group, the CBI, said that flexible, smarter working was here to stay.

"Nine out of ten requests from staff to work flexibly have been accepted by employers and the UK leads the rest of Europe in numbers of part-time workers," he said.

"New technologies will help more people in the future to 'telework' from home or on the move.

"These new ways of working have benefits for companies seeking to recruit, motivate and retain valued staff and for employees who have hectic or demanding lives. More flexible working benefits the economy through higher productivity and reduced transport pressure."

But TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said that employers still needed to do far more before a decent work/life balance can be achieved by everyone at work

"Those employers who have been bold enough to embrace flexibility are more likely to recruit and retain staff and are less likely to suffer from high levels of staff absence.

"A more flexible approach to work is the direction in which we want to be going and I call on the UK's employers to work with unions and the Government to make Britain a better, more productive place to work."

Currently, there are 5.4 million employees in the UK who work through some kind of flexible working agreement, of which 2.2 million are men and 3.2 million are women Of these totals, 3.3 million work from home in some form.

Official figures also show that the number of people working full-time from home in Britain has more than doubled in eight years to almost 2.5 million.