25/07/11

By Tim Duffy, Executive Chairman, MeetingZone – www.meetingzone.com

Since April 2009, Government legislation has been in place allowing employees with children up to the age of 16, or where the child is disabled up the age of 18, to request the right to work flexibly.

In April of this year, new paternity rights legislation came into force enabling fathers to take up to six months of their partner's maternity leave.

As with requests to work flexibly, employers must consider the requests around the new paternity rights formally, and provide valid reasons for refusing them.

But rather than employers and employees having to face potential confrontation around the 'right' to work flexibly, a compromise is available.

That first step in the compromise is for employer and employee to decide how many hours per week can reasonably be worked flexibly i.e. from home.

The second step is for the employee to provide the employee with the business communications tools that enable the employee to work from home as effectively as if he or she were in the office.

I am not suggesting that a new father can 'work' at the same time as caring for his young baby, or that a mum or dad can look after very young children at the same time as doing their job. But, simply by being there, a new dad who is able to work flexibly from home, can provide support to his wife.

The ability to work from home allows mums or dads of older children to do the school run, be at home when the children get in from school or to take them to the dentist or doctor, etc.

It really is a question of the employee balancing the work which must be completed by meeting the designated deadlines, with the need to support a new Mum or, share general childcare duties.

In today's tough business climate, employees are focusing on how they can ensure that they remain employed and many will be unwilling to push for the right to work flexibly.

This seems a little unfair when we all know that business communications tools are already available which allow us to work from home just as if we were in the office.

Employees can access company e-mail, servers, and folders as if they were sitting at their desks. Instant Messaging allows home workers to work in a ‘pool’ of instant contact with their colleagues, everyone able to see who is available.

Cost effective and easy to use conferencing and collaboration solutions allow employees to quickly and easily meet, communicate and collaborate with office based colleagues, team members, suppliers and customers, regardless of the location of any of the participants. Everyone can meet and share information as if they were all sitting around the same meeting room table.

It seems to me that when employers and employees compromise over requests to work flexibly all the barriers to flexible working are removed.

Employers can be confident that their employees will continue to achieve the same levels of productivity and efficiency and employees are able to spend the time they need to with their families.

Compromise a win, win situation.