Is flexible working going into reverse? asks latest Socitm briefing

Is flexible working going into reverse? asks latest Socitm briefing Should other employers follow the example of Yahoo and Google and make a stand against staff working at home? 

As a general rule they should not, certainly if they are public service organisations, says Socitm in its latest briefing Flexible working: going into reverse? while noting the fact that 97% of UK public sector organisations have already adopted the practice.  

Furthermore, the law, in the form of the Work and Families Act 2006, as well as maturing approaches to management, encourage flexible working, while the economic situation demands it, and young people entering the workforce expect it. ICT managers should be championing this cause concludes the briefing, which sets out three key forms of flexible working:  

•      home working, in which employees typically work set numbers of days per week from home or make ad hoc arrangements. According to Socitm’s IT Trends 2013, nearly 80% of employees are covered by such arrangements  

•      ‘hot desking’, in which employees share desk space on the basis that holidays, sickness and attendance at meetings means that ‘normal’ desk utilisation averages at 70%. IT Trends says 54% of employees use ‘hot desks’ at least some of the time  

•      mobile working, in which peripatetic staff are supported by technology - laptops, tablets and smartphones coupled with mobile internet access and WiFi - to work away from their desks. IT Trends 2012-13 reports that 12% of employees do this more than half of the time. 

Benefits from these arrangements mean flexible working is a ‘win:win’. Employees gain more control over their working lives and potentially reduced time cost spent on commuting. Employers get increased productivity, lower turnover, and a happier (and, presumably, better motivated) workforce. Property-related costs can be slashed, and peak hour congestion could be reduced overall. 

However, the march of flexible working is not all forwards.  IT Trends 2012-13 shows that while there has been a strong increase in adoption of flexible working in the revenues and benefits function and some in education, four other services show a significant decline with others appearing to be static. 

The briefing suggests three key issues holding back flexible working. 

The first is the desire not to lose the human contact of co-location. Teleconferencing and e-mail have a role to play with social media able to some degree to replace the ‘water-cooler’ experience. Younger people tend to more comfortable using a multiplicity of channels to interact with one another and supplementing relationships with virtual interactions and multi-tasking. 

The second issue concerns management culture and style. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the greatest barriers to implementing flexible working are middle managers who fear loss of ‘line of sight management’. 

The third barrier is linked to job insecurity in public services, and employees’ desire to have their contribution noticed and valued. They may feel this is more easily achieved by being in the office, than if they are working from home. 

‘Despite these barriers, public service organisations should push ahead with flexible working where the conditions are favourable’ says Chris Head, author of the briefing. ‘Technology enables all of this. Personal devices are smaller, lighter and more powerful. Mobile access is near-ubiquitous and set to reach 98% of the population. Security issues are largely solved apart from behavioural problems that lie outside the control of technology.’ 

Flexible working: going into reverse? is available free of charge to Socitm Insight subscribers at: