Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Changing the way we work: The role teleworking can play in how, when and where we work

a report published by the London Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Harvey Nash in July 2012

Executive summary

Flexible working has become part of how we understand work. More and more employees request non-traditional working arrangements so that they can balance the demands of their working lives whilst maintaining a rewarding social and family life.

Most employers see flexible working as a way of helping their workers to achieve that balance. This informal approach to flexible working not only increases the probabilities of conflict amongst a company’s staff but, more importantly, it means that many businesses are not achieving its full benefits.

Flexible working can provide access to a wider talent pool, contribute to operational savings or improve a company’s output, staff retention levels and motivation. The problem is that there is not a unique implementation formula that guarantees its success.

Using the example of teleworking, also often referred to as ‘remote working’ or ‘virtual working’, this report aims to provide businesses, especially small and medium firms, with information on its potential benefits as well as negative effects, and to offer some guidance on the elements required to achieve it.

Our findings are the result of 11 interviews with London businesses that offer different forms of teleworking to their staff; some of those interviewed were teleworkers themselves, providing a unique perspective into the challenges and benefits of teleworking from the point of view of both the manager and the teleworker. The information so gathered complemented the results of a survey of 178 businesses of different sizes and sectors in the capital undertaken in February 2012.

Teleworking is widespread

Our research shows that the majority of companies offer teleworking as and when needed, although they do not usually have a formal policy on it. Workers in smaller (1 to 19 employees) and bigger companies (500+ employees) are those that generally telework the most, whilst the more senior a position one holds, the more likely one is to work remotely. Yet, this seems to be because those in higher positions tend to be more experienced and, therefore, the more comfortable companies are with their ability to work on their own.

The benefits of teleworking

Companies that offer remote work do so because technology allows them to do it (70 per cent). Better work-life balance (54 per cent) and reduced stress levels (43 per cent) seemed to be the main practical benefits of implementing teleworking, as well as increased employee satisfaction (51 per cent) and work being completed more quickly (46 per cent). On the other side of the spectrum, feelings of isolation and loneliness amongst those working from home and lack of social interaction (29 per cent), increase in the actual number of working hours (25 per cent), technological glitches (25 per cent) and deterioration in communication (24 per cent) were the most common issues reported by those offering teleworking or working remotely themselves.

Success factors

The success or failure of teleworking depends on the culture of the company. Those interviewed for this report believed that without mutual trust between the employer and the employee, and constant and open communication, teleworking cannot succeed. Firms, therefore, need to have a very clear definition of what teleworking means, what is expected from each party, and how often and what kind of positions can telework. Moreover, businesses must put in place clear and regular mechanisms of communication to avoid isolation issues, lack of information and communication failure.

Culture, management and communication

Companies also need to train their staff in essential managerial skills such as delegation and communication. If teleworking is about giving employees more responsibility, managers need to know how to manage from a distance. They also need to know how to recognise the work of those who are not always physically present and to establish continuous, open communication between their reportee(s) and themselves, and between the members of the team, regardless of their physical location.

Promoting Higher Apprenticeships in management and leadership will contribute to good practice amongst the workforce, whilst sending a strong message to employers about the importance of good management for the future of the business itself, as it helps to ensure the generational takeover of the company, and provides it with the skills required to take the firm to the next level of growth.

The effort and time spent in implementing teleworking must be seen as an investment, rather than a cost. Teleworking adds to the resilience of the business, as companies can continue to function beyond eventualities such as transport delays or extreme weather, adding to the overall competitiveness of the wider economy.

Moreover, teleworking can enhance the opportunities for expansion, as it enables growing firms to do so incrementally and without having to take on too many expenses, such as rent or employment costs, at one time. It also makes easier and more cost-effective international collaborations, as firms do not need to have offices in different countries and are more flexible to adapt to different time zones.

The importance of technology

For all this to happen, however, investment in technological infrastructure across the country is needed. If businesses are expected to work from anywhere, at any time, they need to have access to quality, high-speed broadband connection so the demand for remote working can be met without any technological limitations.

Full text: (PDF 20pp)

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