Saturday, November 12, 2011

UK Government Recognises Value of Flexible Working

It seems that at long last the message might be getting through. Instead of seeing flexible working as just a ‘family friendly’ provision, a government minister has now recognized that it can also deliver massive cost savings.

Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, announced this week that the government could save £15 billion per year by adopting flexible working and home working practices. He based this on a report just published by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum chaired by Matthew Hancock MP. This group published a report in February 2011, called ‘Leaner and Greener: Delivering Effective Estate Management’, which estimated that public sector organisations could deliver £7 billion in annual savings from decreasing the space they occupy. The latest report ‘Leaner and Greener II’ adds a further £8 billion to the total, based on increased productivity.

The report and its recommendations concentrate on real estate and the way that property costs can be reduced by better utilisation and rationalisation. However it concludes that “Research shows that improvements to the workplace can enhance productivity of employees from between 5%-15%”. Using the bottom of this range they calculate that £8 billion a year can be saved from government expenditure by having more effective workplaces.

While this report is primarily focused on efficiency savings achievable through property, it adds “it is important to emphasise that the relative weightings of property and staff costs … display that the cost of human resources far outstrips property cost. In addition, evidence shows that flexible working opportunities are an important element in retaining a highly skilled workforce and lowering turnover, as employees seek employers able to provide them with work- life balance. Flexible working therefore has significant potential to not only deliver property savings, but can importantly also reduce staff costs.”

So maybe the government need to follow up with a report looking at the potential for savings based on new working practices and not just include it as an afterthought in a report about property.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Future Work - book now published

I'm pleased to announce that I am the co-author of a great new book - "Future Work: how businesses can adapt and thrive in the new world of work". It's been almost two years since I teamed up with Alison Maitland and we embarked on this project.

Alison has a background as a journalist, having worked for the FT, and has written many articles about Flexible Working and related management issues. She has also co-written a previous book "Why women mean business". We found that the combination of our background and experience worked well in identifying the key components that contribute to new ways of working.

We decided to call the book, and the new style of working, "Future Work" to differentiate it from Flexible Working or Smart Work which come with their own baggage. We feel that Flexible Working has been too closely associated with 'family friendly' employee benefits and is seen as a burden on business. We point to many examples of Future Work which contribute to the bottom line through increased productivity, lower costs, reduced employee turnover and lower absenteeism.

We identify the 'trust and empower' culture needed to implement Future Work, based on the results of a survey of middle managers carried out for the book. We show that these managers are not happy with their current organisational culture and would like their people to have more autonomy over their working practices.

As we say in the book "We are still in the early stages of the transformation of work, largely because corporate cultures and management styles are not keeping pace with technological advances. This was why we embarked on this book: to help managers and organizations make the necessary shift to more efficient business, better lives and a healthier Earth for the next generation to inherit.
Future work is one of those rare opportunities for all-round benefit. As we have shown through numerous examples in this book, it contributes positively to the bottom line while improving the lives of workers and helping to protect our fragile ecosystem. It is not an option for business any longer. It is a matter of staying competitive."

For more information see

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Social Media - why ban it?

ACAS have recently issued guidance for employers on social networking and managing performance. They point out that the use of social media is allowing many employees to work remotely, which offers unique challenges for performance management. They also say that it blurs the distinction between work and home life, with many employees available at home and while travelling. This has led some employers to put more emphasis on managing the tasks an employee performs rather than managing the time they work.

The fact that ACAS are not saying ‘ban social media at work’ is encouraging. They point out the benefits and dangers and provide advice on the way forward for employers. They suggest that organisations should have a policy so it is clear to employees what they may, or may not, do. They also recommend that line managers have guidelines on remote/home working and that they focus on end-products rather than managing time too closely.

It does seem that some organisations are now realising that social media can be useful in supporting their business objectives and not assuming that it is all a waste of time. The latest Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIO’s from the US showed that 51% of them now allow employees to use sites like Facebook and Twitter for business purposes compared with 19% in 2009. However the survey also shows that 31% ban social media completely at work and only 4% give people complete freedom.

In the UK, a recent survey of 2,500 businesses showed that 48% of them ban the use of social media completely by their employees at work. So there is a long way to go before most employers trust their people to act responsibly. In most cases the ban is introduced because managers fear that their employees will waste hours of work time chatting to friends on Facebook or tweeting away on Twitter. But the common ownership of smartphones means that the individual can quite happily tweet away from their desk without using the corporate system anyway. So what’s the next move: ask people to leave their mobile phones at the door when they come to the office?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Work Wise Week

It's Work Wise Week in the UK this week. (May 16th - 20th) This is an interesting time to reflect on how we have progressed in the six years since the WorkWise Uk initiative was launched.

I remember being involved in the first year and the organisers coming up with a problem. The Government Minister who was due to launch the week was only available on a Wednesday. So I was one of the people who suggested that this was an opportunity to make a point and start the week on a Wednesday. By doing this it would illustrate that today's work practices are not restricted to Monday to Friday and that a lot of 'Smart Working' goes on at weekends. I see that this year it is only a Monday to Friday week and is a much scaled down affair compared with the first few years.

Does this mean that WorkWise has run its course and that everyone is now working wisely? No, definitely not. It does reflect the recession which has killed off the sponsorship of the event and made people focus more on survival than reviewing their working practices. Although, ironically, flexible working is a great way of surviving a recession. It improves productivity and creates a workforce that can be more responsive to changing customer demands. So now more than ever we need to challenge some of the outdated assumptions about work.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why does the government insist on linking flexible working with maternity?

Looking back over my previous blogs, I see that in July 2008 I pointed out the discrepancies between maternity and paternity provisions in the UK and hoped that they would get changed. Today at last I see that the government is starting a consultation process on the idea that parents can share the leave between them. see

This looks like a step in the right direction, but included amongst the proposals is the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just parents and carers. Whilst this is a welcome development, one I have argued for over the years, it is a pity to see it bound up in a package of 'family friendly' provisions and still firmly in the 'employee benefit' camp. Inevitably some employers will see this as yet another imposition on business and will equate flexible working with other parental rights that are an additional burden.

In practice there is overwhelming evidence that flexible working makes people more productive, reduces absenteeism and lowers employee turnover. Let's see it promoted as good business sense that also happens to be an employee benefit, not the other way round.

To be fair to Vince Cable, he is quoted as saying "But I’m also confident that we have a good case to make on the wider benefits to business - not least from a motivated and flexible workforce and we will be making this case to employers over the next few years before these changes are introduced." However this still comes as an afterthought not the main argument.

The Book is Written

I've been quiet on this blog for the past year whilst I've been busy writing a book.

I teamed up with Alison Maitland who has an excellent record as a journalist (ex - FT) and co-author of another book 'Why Women mean Business". Together we took most of a year to gather together the information and write it up. We interviewed over 60 people, mostly senior leaders in major organisations and have included many cases studies in the book. We also carried out a survey of managers to find out more about the organisational culture that they are working in and how it compares with their ideal. We asked them about the prevalence of flexible working in their business and found that there is a disctinct management culture that seems to go along with new working practices.

The result is "Future Work: how businesses can adapt and thrive in the new world of work" which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in October. It's now just a frustrating time waiting for the book to come out but meanwhile you can find out more about it at This website has a discussion forum which is initially only being opened to the participants in the survey and invited guests. If however, you are interested in the future of work and how organisations need to adapt to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, then let me know and I will get you an invite.