With the rise of the Next Generation Network, many organisations now have the practical option of enabling employees to work from home. It’s a solution that’s becoming increasingly hard for employers to ignore – particularly with today’s emphasis on a healthy work-life balance.
In a nationwide study into homeworking trends undertaken in July 2007, Virgin Media Business found that 70% of UK workers surveyed were permanently office-based, leaving the other 30% working from home in some way. Unsurprisingly, the survey reveals most employees would prefer working from the comfort of their own homes. Yet employers gain benefits too, not least of all fulfilling legal obligations: parents of children under six and of disabled children under 18 can request flexible working patterns from their employers, including the right to work from home. Employees who are carers of adults are also entitled to request flexible working.
Many employers have been slow in seeing the writing on the wall, says Tony Corbin, Programme Manager for Hampshire County Council and the Mobile and Teleworking Initiative for a Smarter South East. “While the number of teleworkers has increased in the last decade, the expected acceleration in numbers hasn't really happened, despite the technology, which becomes more affordable and reliable year on year,” he says . “What’s slow to change are management attitudes. Our recent research in Hampshire shows many managers are still keen to manage on the basis of ‘presenteeism’, rather than the more complex, but infinitely more satisfactory, results of output-based measurement techniques.”
Tony acknowledges there are potential drawbacks for employers, but believes these can be overcome by good management. “While some still fear the technology, a greater concern is performance management, together with the motivation and control of remote teams,” he explains. “Another understandable concern is the effort needed to modify working terms and conditions, including any tax or benefit implications. But above all, the move to mobile working has to be treated by organisations as a properly managed change programme and therefore needs a board-level champion, clear objectives and a means by which progress can be measured.”
Staying in doesn’t mean slacking off
Homeworking reduces commuting, office overheads and absenteeism. It enhances recruitment and retention, and can improve employees’ health and personal productivity. Commuting has an obvious impact both on the environment and the wellbeing of employees, and many organisations are under pressure to introduce green policies. Elsewhere, a large proportion of UK business costs are dedicated to the maintenance of office space, yet the Virgin Media Business survey indicates that many UK offices remain under-utilised. The very technology that allows people to communicate on the move is resulting in empty desks. Organisations could use that same technology to reduce office costs, even to the extent of reducing the amount of office space held.
Many employers have resigned themselves to assuming a degree of absenteeism, which nonetheless costs UK business billions of pounds a year. Homeworking could help reduce this, while lessening the kind of germ exposure on public transport and in the office that causes sick days in the first place. Our survey even revealed many workers would improve their diets if they stayed at home. Fifty percent said they would eat less fatty or pre-packed food while working from home compared to working in the office. Forty-nine percent would eat less food overall and 36% would drink less caffeine. So that’s more energy and less frayed nerves all round!
Tools of the revolution
Mobile technology enables operational flexibility across the entire workforce. The need for workers to remain in a central office is in decline, as wireless technology negates the need for a fixed connection.
Laptops, palmtops and PDAs have allowed IT to escape the office too. During fleeting office visits, mobile devices can reconnect to the network using cables or wireless technology and can synchronise data with databases and file servers. The mobile phone is another tool of the revolution, as high-end handsets offer email, web access and simplified office applications. Cellular telephony also offers data transmission services, such as GSM (Global System for Mobile) communications, allowing mobiles to send and receive data, and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), an ‘always-on’ data service similar to broadband.
But what happens when only a face-to-face meeting will suffice? Such meetings are still do-able, although people no longer need to be in the same room thanks to advanced packages such as our IP Multimedia, which integrates voice, data and video. So the benefits to the environment, to the individual, to the productivity and profitability of businesses seem proven.
Our solutions for building your flexible network
- Converged Solutions: Our IP Multimedia solution is ideal for remote and flexible working, allowing employees to take their personal phone number with them wherever they go, as well as offering a way of simultaneously managing voice, video and data communications.
- LAN Solutions: Properly designed and implemented, a Local Area Network forms the bedrock of today’s advanced communications and our LAN Solutions offer support for security, wireless networking and unified communications.
- Remote Access: A Managed VPN from Virgin Media Business combines simple yet secure remote access solutions with established links over our core Next Generation Network. We offer the choice of IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPNs.
- Site-to-site connectivity solutions: Connect sites, customer databases and customer service staff regardless of geographic location. We offer a range of VPN options, from IP to Metro Ethernet.