Tuesday, June 01, 2010

World Cup Fever

Earlier this year we had travel chaos in the UK because of a few inches of snow. Businesses closed down for several days, and industries started counting up the cost of the disruption. Then as the sun shone through we soon forgot the snow and went back to business as usual. Some people learned a lesson and thought about contingency plans for the next time it happens but many just decided we have to live with it.

Soon after this, Washington DC suffered a major blizzard and many people had difficulty getting to work. The federal government had already started a telework programme and this gave it a great boost. So on May 24 the Senate passed the Telework Enhancement Act by unanimous consent. The bill grants federal employees presumptive eligibility to telework and would require that all federal agencies establish telework policies, designate a telework manager and ensure that telework is part of continuity-of-operations planning.

As the spring arrived we encountered a different disruption to travel; this time an Icelandic volcano. Again employers were faced with people unable to travel, stuck awaiting a flight home. So the question comes up again "What do we do when this happens?". Do employees get unpaid leave, paid leave, deductions from their annual holiday allowance or a request to make up the lost time? As if this wasn't enough of a disruption to air travel, British Airways cabin crew then decide to run a series of 5 day strikes.

So by now you would assume that most employers are aware what to do when employees can't come to work. Maybe they have arrangements that allow people to work from home? Maybe they have flexible hours arrangements? Maybe they measure people by results and allow then to choose their own hours? Well, it doesn't seem so based on the latest concern - The Football World Cup. There are now concerns about how to manage absence during this tournament when key games are televised during normal working hours.

This again raises the question of what work/jobs have to be performed at a specific place and time and what work can be done flexibly to fit around the individual's personal life. Allowing people to take time off to watch a football match where possible and getting them to compensate with more work at another time seems reasonable. It hopefully removes the temptation to take sick leave on match days. Discussing this openly with employees shows that you are prepared to be flexible and it might even produce some football-hating employees who will be happy to cover for the fans!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Obama promotes flexible working

This week the White House hosted a Forum on Workplace Flexibility. Michele Obama started it off giving some of her personal experiences in trying to balance family pressures and a career. There was then a panel discussion and the event ended with a great speech from the President pointing out the benefits of flexible working, not just for individuals but for employers as well.

It can all be found on YouTube ( see http://bit.ly/ObamaFlexibility )and there is a report from the Council of Economic Advisers called "The Economics of Workplace Flexibility" (http://bit.ly/WorkplaceFlexibility). The text of Barak Obama's speech can be found at http://bit.ly/ObamaWFtext.

What we need now is a similar lead from the Prime Minister in the UK and fom the EU for Europe. Promotion of new ways of working as a BUSINESS BENFIT not just a social policy.

Here are some quotes from his speech...

".. we as a society still see workplace flexibility policies as a special perk for women rather than a critical part of a workplace that can help all of us."

"And as for how this issue affects companies’ bottom lines, a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers that we’re releasing today found that companies with flexible work arrangements can actually have lower turnover and absenteeism, and higher productivity, and healthier workers.

So let’s be clear: Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy -- whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future we need to compete in today’s global economy.

And ultimately, it reflects our priorities as a society -- our belief that no matter what each of us does for a living, caring for our loved ones and raising the next generation is the single most important job that we have. I think it’s time we started making that job a little easier for folks."

"Many of you here represent companies and workplaces that are already doing just that -- embracing telecommuting, flextime, compressed work weeks, job sharing, flexible start and end times, and helping your employees generally find quality childcare and eldercare. And if you’re doing this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because you’ve found that what’s good for your workers and is good for your families can be good for your bottom lines and your shareholders as well, then you need to spread the word."

"And that’s why John is working ... to provide opportunities for federal employees ...to telework on a regular basis. Where regulations are in the way, we’ll see what we can do to change them. Where new technology can help, we’ll find a secure, cost-effective way to install it. Where training is needed to help managers and workers embrace this approach, we’ll adopt the best practices from the private sector."

"It’s about attracting and retaining top talent in the federal workforce and empowering them to do their jobs, and judging their success by the results that they get -- not by how many meetings they attend, or how much face-time they log, or how many hours are spent on airplanes. It’s about creating a culture where, as Martha Johnson puts it, “Work is what you do, not where you are.”"

Let's hope some of these messages get through to the Public Sector in the UK. Given the current emphasis on improving efficiency this seems like a good place to start.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Productivity of Home Working

I've recently carried out some research into the productivity of people working at home. The results are fascinating and challenge conventional thinking about telework.

Rather than try to explain it all here you can either get the report from here or better still if you have 10 minutes to spare hear me giving a presentation with slides of the results here.