Shifts to flexible working – and its impact

Posted in business, economics, energy, organisational, trends, work by thenextwavefutures on 24 May, 2007

A couple of reports on flexible working – which may or may not have been released to coincide with ‘National Work From Home Day‘ last Friday – suggest that senior managers may at last be starting to work flexibly (even in sectors with antediluvian employment practices such as investment banking) – but that the environmental impact, which is usually assumed to be good, depends on how flexible working is implemented.

The flexible working report was unveiled at a conference run by Working Families called ‘Hours to Suit’ (see what they just did there?). The actual report doesn’t seem to have been published yet but the research appears to be based on depth interviews with senior managers in companies such as Lehmann Brothers (who sponsored the conference), Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Microsoft, Shell, BT, Hewlett Packard and so on. Business cultures, it concludes, have shifted over the last three years, to accept and adapt to different working patterns. Technology has helped to enable this.

One important conclusion – mirrored by some work in this area which Henley is currently doing with Orange and its Future Enterprise Coalition –  is summarised in a quote in a Guardian article by Pam Walton:

“Organisations are beginning to accept that in many of these jobs it is outputs that matter; where and how you do it should not be the issue.”

The second report, “The Costs of Transport on the Environment – The Role of Teleworking in Reducing Carbon Emissions” was sponsored by BT Conferencing and Giritech (remote working security solutions) so perhaps it’s no surprise that it concludes that “teleworking” (maybe not the most helpful label) is likely to reduce emissions.

It has been written by – among others – Professor David Banister, of Oxford University’s Centre for the Environment, and the methodology is a review of existing Government, academic, and technology research. Again, it’s not apparently available (yet?), so the best guide is a story by Bill Andad on the daniweb blog for IT specialists.

A couple of wrinkles in the story: significant savings seem to kick in when people start to work from home more than one day a week, and any climate change savings can disappear if employers don’t change the way they manage their offices.

From the (fairly rich) data summary at the end of the daniweb story, three points stand out for me:

  •  The number of commuting trips has fallen by 8% from 1995-2005, but travel to work distances have risen slightly.
  • The frequency of homeworking amongst full-time employees is rising, but 83% still say that it is not possible to work at home.
  • But 65% of those in work in the UK are “very” or “somewhat” interested in at least one type of telework – and 33% regard their job as feasible for home teleworking at least one day per week.

This type of latent desire, between where the market is now, and what people would like to be able to do, usually suggests that change is gonna happen, sooner or later. And if more senior managers are working more flexibly, it suggests that barriers will start to fall away as well.


One Response

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  1. Olivier Prevot said, on 5 June, 2007 at 2:54 pm


    Flexible working as teleworking seems to be a temoprary solution to offsetting our carbon footprint – at a corporate and individual level.

    But another form of flexible working, set up by enables students, part time workers, or anyone basically, to sell their time on the marketplace, and therefore create a new market for recruitment.

    For example, if I have 2 hours of spare time on thursday night, next week, I could basically sell these hours to Comapny X, for £X/ hour, to do a specific task – usually a task which does not require a high level of skills (photocopying). This marketplace would be updated several times daily, and I can be cheaper or more expensive than someone else.

    Some of the awaited results – Indeed, resource management is more efficient (though more erratic maybe?) ; indeed, the student will get pocket money to go out ; and a new niche is opened for recruitment agencies…

    But when factoring the Green footprint of each of these initiative, I am convinced that we will end up with people travelling to get there, for a short amount of time.
    several questions arise then, with some paradoxal dimensions:
    – I still travel a certian distance for a relatively short amnount of time spent at this location
    – as I am using “spare time” to work, I therefore am greener in the sense that my transport costs is used in an efficient way (instead of taking my car to go to the cinema, I create value added for the company)
    – as I am hired for a short period of time, to do a specific task, the company do not need to hire someone full time to do that, and only use me sporadically because of the costs

    It seems that the key to such initiative should be to advertise the LOCAL dimension…if the “flexible workers” can be more efficient , then can also be greener if travelling shorter distances, on a smaller scale.
    is anyone walking to the office these days ?



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