Just two months after lamenting the poor take-up of remote working by UK employers, Work Wise UK reports that such working practices are now becoming more widely adopted.
Work Wise welcomed a City & Guilds report, Tomorrow's Leaders", which reveals that 73 percent of managers have flexible working policies in their organisation.
Work Wise UK is a not-for-profit initiative which aims to make the UK the most progressive economy in the world and encourage smarter working practices to the benefit of business, employees and the country as a whole.
The City & Guilds meanwhile is a UK awarding body for work-related qualifications. It is also an authority on vocational education and training, both in the UK and internationally. It takes a less optimistic view of the report, saying: "The way we work is changing, fast - and UK managers are struggling to keep up with the pace. This is the worrying picture painted by the Tomorrow’s Leaders report, which tracks how British bosses are adapting to increasingly mobile workforces."
The report mentioned IT could be a barrier to remote working, stating "IT was frequently mentioned as a barrier to wider uptake of flexible working. Only 22 percent (of responents) told us that their employers invest heavily in appropriate working technology."
According to Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise, there are good technology options available now: "It was an issue several years ago. Now technology has advanced and these issues are being addressed."
New technology is available to prevent remote workers introducing malware - viruses and Trojans, etc. - into corporate networks via infected PCs and notebooks.
Another finding in the report, jointly commissioned with the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), was this: "managers admitted that they felt ill-equipped to deal with the day-to-day reality of managing remote teams. Almost half of respondents said that managers were unprepared for supervising flexible teams, and only a quarter had undergone specific training for managing remotely. In particular, anxiety around communication skills had been singled out, and more support identified for developing better ways of binding teams together."
Work Wise UK supports the need for more training, with Flaxton saying: "To overcome this ('presenteeism'), managers need to have access to more up-to-date training."
In June, Work Wise UK stated the British were failing to exploit the benefits of flexible working. Flaxton then said: "Although there has been progress in the adoption of innovative working styles, this report highlights we have a long way to go. The percentage of companies practicing flexi-time with our competitors Germany and Sweden at 90 percent, are almost double that of the UK at just 48 percent ... This is a wake up call to employers who if they continue current archaic nine to five working practices, will not only miss out on productivity gains, but risk government legislation."
Why the change in Work Wise UK's thinking then? "I think that generally there is a greater awareness of the role technology can play as an enabler," said Flaxton now. "More and more organisations are now starting to think there is another way. With the widespread availability of broadband in the UK, I think the penny is dropping."
Flaxton thought that the way managers measure remote workers has to be different from general practice in measuring office-bound workers, which is based on their input and on their being present: "The model has to be turned completely on its head. You should be managed on your output, what you physically do."
Flaxton is still concerned about archaic practices: "The study also highlighted the main obstacle to the wider adoption of smarter working practices generally. The culture of 'presenteeism' where management require staff and employees to be at the place of work to be considered working, is an anachronism from the 19th century - it is completely the wrong approach in today's modern working environment. To overcome this, managers need to have access to more up-to-date training."
Here he and the City & Guilds are in agreement, with a City & Guilds statement saying we need more vocational education: "As well as identifying the key skills needed to co-ordinate and motivate 21st century workers, the Tomorrow’s Leaders report pinpoints some clear areas where urgent managerial development is required, if UK plc is to get the best from its personnel."
Flaxton says that BT is a clear example of the benefits of remote working and a modern atitude, where there has been a 20 percent rise in the productivity of workers enabled to work remotely.