Discuss article a different way of working


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A different way of working By Alison Maitland
Home comforts: nearly 60% of people working from home report being more productive than in the workplace . Lee Summersgill was initially concerned when he heard that his employer, KPMG, the professional services firm, wanted staff to volunteer for a four-day week to help minimise job cuts in the recession. The news coincided with the birth of his daughter in January last year, and he was worried about a reduction in hours and pay.

Then he considered the benefits of a change to his working week so that he could share the childcare with his partner, a health visitor. Now he puts away his BlackBerry every Thursday night and spends Friday with his two young children.

“I’ve been doing it for a year and it’s worked really well,” says Mr Summersgill, who advises clients on public-private housing and regeneration projects. “You have to be really disciplined and try to fit everything into four days. I think it makes you more loyal. Would any other firm have the same level of flexibility and understanding? In the market I’m in, I don’t think that would be there.” Mr Summersgill’s experience illustrates two growing trends: fathers wanting greater flexibility to accommodate family life, and employers using flexibility to keep employees motivated, improve productivity and avoid large-scale job cuts.

Business leaders around the world have remained concerned about retaining good people, even in the depths of recession. In December 2008, a global survey by Hay Group, a consultancy, concluded: “While employees fear losing their jobs, organisations fear the loss of top talent and critical skills.” Amid signs of economic recovery, but with cost constraints continuing, employers are looking at alternatives to financial incentives. Offering employees greater control over working time and location is one such option.

KPMG, for example, is examining new approaches, after the success of its “Flexible Futures” programme in signing up employees for sabbaticals or reduced weeks. Roughly 85 per cent of the 10,000 UK staff, and 95 per cent of partners, volunteered at the start of last year. Approximately 800 people moved temporarily to four-day weeks, with the heaviest use of the programme last May and June. The firm saved £4m last year,or the equivalent of 100 full-time jobs, says Michelle Quest, UK head of people. When the programme was relaunched for this year, 71 per cent volunteered. “One of the softer benefits is moving the whole idea of
flexible working up the agenda for everybody,” says Ms Quest. The firm is now considering more active promotion of job sharing, because this type of arrangement provides all-week cover for clients. The business benefits of alternative working patterns are increasingly well documented by both large and small employers. A survey of small firms by the British Chambers of Commerce found most of those that had introduced flexible working reported a positive effect on employee relations, retention and productivity.

Benefits also include extended customer service cover, more efficient use of office space, reduced absenteeism, and access to new employees who need such flexibility to work. Many employers still see flexible working as an employee benefit – and therefore a cost – rather than a tool to improve the business. They remain nervous about allowing staff greater flexibility, and managers fear
losing control of employees if they work from home or on the move. Yet nearly 60 per cent of people who work from home at least some of the time say they are definitely more productive than in their workplace, and more than 20 per cent say they are probably more productive, according to a recent online survey. The main reasons are being able to work uninterrupted, saving time on commuting and being able to fit work around other commitments. Twelve per cent say their output at home is at least 50 per cent higher. “In a time of unsteady recovery from recession, employers from all sectors must look for continued improvements in efficiency,” says Peter Thomson, director of research at the Telework Association, which conducted the survey. “Ultimately, the organisations that do not adopt new ways of working, including home working, will lose not just good people, but also high performers. Those that do allow people to work at home will reap the benefits of substantial increases in output.” UK government policy has focused on extending parents’ and carers’ right to request flexible working.

However, some large and small employers offer flexibility to all their employees, arguing this is more productive and less divisive.
A desire for flexibility unites workers of different ages. Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s “Working Better” project found parents’ top priority for improving work-life balance was to have a wider range of flexible jobs, and that it was harder for men to access such jobs. Another commission survey, published in January, found significant demand among workers over 50 for flexibility in hours and location of work.

At Centrica, owner of British Gas, roughly 60 per cent of employees work a variety of non-standard arrangements, most of them informal. Research by Cranfield School of Management found that Centrica employees working flexibly scored significantly higher than non-flexible workers on job satisfaction and fulfilment, commitment to the company and empowerment.

At the other end of the scale in terms of size is Clock, a digital agency in Hertfordshire employing about 30 people, mostly men. Syd Nadim, chief executive, offers flexibility to attract and keep skilled web designers and developers. Managers set staff objectives and give them leeway to meet these as they think best.   Flexible start and finish times mean the agency’s office is staffed from 8am to 9pm, while employees are also available to clients on their mobile phones. “We’re successful and we’re making money while creating an environment for people to enjoy their lives,” says Mr Nadim. Read business advice on new ways of working at: www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and- guidance/here-for-business/working-better

Q1)  What case does the article makes in favour of flexible working in relation to talent?

Q2)  What might be the case against offering flexible working?

Q3)  Can flexible working be cost effective for the business?

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