27/01/2012

By Ben Weiner, CEO Of Conjungo

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of ‘Working from Home‘(or as we would refer to it as ‘WFH’, was considered as an excuse for staying at home in the pretext of working yet actually staying in bed, occasionally checking emails (dial-up then of course) while watching Jeremy Kyle or probably in those days Jerry Springer.

Now it’s pretty much the norm. In fact people in the main are very conscientious and effective, so much so that many people find it difficult to ‘switch off’. So what had made this phenomenon so successful?

2007 was the first time laptops finally overtook desktop sales. Although partially driven by a reduction in LCD costs, the trend also reflects a desire for mobility, especially teleworkers who account for an eighth of the UK workforce. According to the definition offered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), teleworkers are ‘people who work mainly in their own home or mainly in different places using home as a base, who use both a telephone and a computer to carry out their work at home’.

Although many argue that the definition is too limited, figures from the ONS and other experts including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Trade Union Council (TUC) places the number of Teleworkers both full and part time somewhere between 3 and 5 million or up to 12% of the UK workforce.

Even discounting the high number of self employed contractors such as plumbers, bricklayers and the like – teleworking is growing steadily and high ICT literacy, increased availability of communication technologies is making it a viable alternative for many information based workers.

There are numerous flagship examples of teleworking across the public and private sector including many “big brand” organisations. One of the earliest and most publicised started in 1999 when the AA decided to pilot a teleworking scheme for its call centre staff. At a time before low cost broadband, with higher capital equipment cost and dispersed management arrangements – the pilot required a 36% increase in productivity to justify costs.

In fact, the pilot increased productivity by 37%-45% with much lower instances of absenteeism while teleworkers saved an average of 2.75 hours in daily travel. The success of the project led the AA to shut down its main Leeds call centre, successfully switching the bulk of its call agents to the new the “Homeshoreing” practice.

Although the motivation for many organisations is purely financial, other factors are helping its adoption. “There is a requirement under the Employment Act of 2003 which requires employees to offer flexibility to certain groups of parents,” explains Shirley Borrett, Development Director for the Telework Association, “However, much of the current popularity around flexible working is down to increased productivity, staff retention and higher levels of green awareness.

However, a decade on, the UK still lags behind the rest of Europe in terms of Teleworking with only 20% of firms offering it compared to 44% in Germany, 40% in Norway and 39% in Denmark according to a survey by the Cranfield School of Management.

Although the whole work vs. life balance debate has touted teleworking as a natural fit, some of the early champions of the practice such as AT&T and HP have started to bring people back in to the office arguing that the central environment is better for teamwork. Even the successful AA project saw some staff members simply leave the organisation because they didn’t enjoy working at home and missed the camaraderie of the office.

I was one of the initial groups of people when working at BT who was part of a very successful experiment to encourage home working. Frankly, all of the above, I believe to be true. Yes, I still work from home, I do actually find it difficult to ‘switch off’, no I’m not being a martyr and yes I do miss being in the office when I’m not there. Of course there is a compromise and I suspect most people have worked that one out. A little bit of both is important and effective!


www.conjungo.com

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