Home working doesn’t mean less productivity

WORKING from home won’t suit every company, but providing greater opportunities to staff to do so can have real business benefits. According to BT, while the Olympic Games provides a timely business case to make the leap to greater flexibility, that decision has the potential to deliver returns that outlast the summer’s sporting triumphs. And BT’s research in the wake of the Vancouver Games found that a substantial 30 per cent of businesses would in retrospect have taken the chance to improve flexible working facilities for their staff.

In this area, BT leads by example, having encouraged flexible working for years. More than 70,000 of BT’s staff are equipped to work flexibly and around 13,000 work from home. The result has been harder work from employees. Jon Lane, business development and partnership director at BT, says “we find that home workers are 21 per cent more productive than office-based colleagues.” They also take less sick leave. He adds, “we have also made significant savings from reduced accommodation costs, and savings from recruitment and induction costs through better staff retention.”

There’s no question that in our age of digitised information, distance is not the barrier it used to be. “Transport disruption and failure to reach the office are no longer reasons to stop work,” according to Keith Tilley, managing director UK for SunGard Availability Services, a company specialising in business continuity management. Tilley says: “The latest developments in recovery allow workers who are normally tied to a single location to work effectively from home in the event of a business disruption.”

Still, technology is not enough. A firm determined to explore these options needs to create a cultural shift in the workplace. One of BT’s solutions has been to create a headquarters that is a resource base for the whole company, rather than a cloistered head office hive. Just 1,600 workstations are enough to support 8,000 BT staff for whom the building is available to use when they are in central London.

Hugh Sumner, director of transport for the Olympic Delivery Authority, says: “A good way to reduce non-essential employee travel during the Games is to encourage staff to work from home. Using alternative methods for meetings, such as conference calls, video conferencing and web conferencing will allow businesses to continue running smoothly in the run up to, and during, the 2012 Games.”

Again, it takes a culture shift to adopt such conferencing technology, but the results are impressive once the leap is made. Telephone conferencing eliminates an estimated 859,784 face-to-face meetings a year for BT, and a survey of their staff found 81 per cent now see conferencing as an essential tool that they could not perform as well without.

Flexible working promises more productive and happier staff, not to mention fewer office outgoings. 2012 may have put flexi-working to the forefront, but now may be the time to consider committing to its long-term promise.

BT’s home-working revolution in numbers:

● 13,000 staff working from home

● 70,000+ staff equipped to work flexibly

● 1,600 workstations in the London HQ

● 8,000 staff using the London HQ

● 21% increase in productivity

● £103m in productivity gains each year

● £500m savings on office space each year

● £135m savings on travel each year

● 859,784 fewer face-to-face meetings a year

● 81% of staff say conferencing is essential

● French office cut from eight to three floors