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.