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BIRD'S EYE VIEW: Bunking off?

Date: 01 June 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

The recent National Work from Home Day wants more of us to work from home. So, asks Guy Bird, is it time to trust the staff?

"He's working from home today". What a loaded sentence. Delivered in even a slightly suspicious tone by the office-based colleague's lips, it leaves the enquirer in no doubt: "He's bunking off". No extra raised eyebrow required.

But soon the ultimate euphemism for doing anything but working may be rendered harmless. It might just describe people who choose not to get stuck in increasing congestion in order to struggle into an office plagued by 'overloud Gavin in sales' banging on about who he'd have in his all-time rock group (again).

According to the RAC, 25 million UK citizens commute to and from a fixed place of work, of which 72% travel by car. The British are particular culprits, spending by far the longest time travelling in Europe - as much as 47 working days per year, which equates to twice many people's annual leave.

But the stats also say more people are taking up home-working or 'mobile worker' status as a solution - four million at last count, or up to 11% of the workforce.

The benefits are obvious: zero commute time versus a UK average of 58 minutes; zero mileage versus an 8.7-mile UK average; negligible fuel and emissions costs - even allowing for a few more domestic appliances switched on.

The technology to enable many of us to homework is better than at any time previously. Widespread and cheap availability of broadband, laptops, email and mobile phones all make it easy for us to stay in touch and to some extent be monitored too. Ten years ago you couldn't have said the same thing. The only other thing you need is a manager who trusts you.

“The stats say more people are taking up home-working or 'mobile worker' status as a solution - four million at last count, or up to 11% of the workforce.”

Guy Bird

As David Lennan, chairman of Work Wise, the not-for-profit organisation devoted to smarter working practices, said: "There is no downside to smarter working. The only obstacles to changing working practices are culture and management style."

Give it a go

Work Wise recently celebrated its second annual National Work From Home Day and has backing from the TUC, CBI, the Government and big businesses. BT for one is a great advocate, with ten years of smarter working practices, and claims productivity increases of 20%. It has 12,000 home workers plus 80,000 of its workforce working flexibly - which can mean staggering their commutes to less congested times or perhaps condensing hours into less working days to enable a nine-day working fortnight. And no less than the CBI reckons smarter working is essential to UK plc's ability to stay globally competitive against expanding economies such as China and India.

Managers who can't see past their employees re-alphabetizing their CD collection or sunbathing in the garden if allowed to work from home need to take a chance with a trial run. Most jobs have deadlines, or have some way of measuring regular performance so tighten them up and monitor things. If productivity goes up, expand the scheme, if it doesn't, change it.

From a fleet perspective, lower fuel bills, higher residual values - through less wear and tear and lower annual mileage - and possibly knock-on lower insurance premiums are all potential benefits. Drivers doing less rushing around should feel less stressed behind the wheel thus helping in the duty of care stakes while lower fleet mileage is helpful for improving eco corporate social responsibility too.

Why not visit for case study ideas and have a think about what parts of your business could do the same. Just leave the CD filing alone until after work, okay? Yours, the biased but happily converted, full-time home-worker.