Working 9-5: Not a way to make a living?

National Work from Home Day and Work Wise Week is upon us, but what's the big deal about flexible working and why should companies care?

Where are you sitting right now? Chances are you're at the same desk you sit at every working day, glass of water to your left, pencil tidy and notepad to your right, hunched over your computer like you're hiding a pot of gold from prying eyes. It doesn't have to be that way. At least not every day...

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Imagine if your workplace was as dynamic and flexible as your job itself. After all, the IT industry is a vibrant and fast-moving sector, so it makes sense for the culture to echo those same sentiments.

What better time to try out a new way of working than on national Work from Home day? It falls this Thursday and kicks off a whole week dedicated to the issue of smarter working practices in the form of Work Wise Week.

Almost one in eight employees now work from home, according to Trade Union Congress (TUC) statistics. Granted, not all job roles -or, indeed, people - will be suited to flexible working, but the collective ethos of National Work from Home Day and Work Wise Week is to encourage more companies to at least consider it as an option.

Is home working good for business?

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But why should IT and business decision makers care? After all, your team works just fine as it is, right? In theory, yes; but in practice, most likely no.

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Recent research from Avaya suggests that unexpected employee absence costs smaller businesses up to 25,000 a year. Communications giant BT, which is one of Work Wise UK's strategic partners, believes there is a direct link between flexible working and sickness, or lack of it.

"BT has more than 70,000 employees are equipped to work flexibly in one way or another and more than 13,500 home workers," a BT spokesman told IT PRO.

"A flexible workforce takes less time off sick: BT home workers take on average just three days a year off sick. The ability to offer employees flexible working patterns helps BT to attract the best talent and helps us to retain the experienced and skilled people."

Ergo, introduce more flexibility in working practices and employees will actually do more work. It's not rocket science, but many companies are still trembling and running scared at the thought of grasping the flexibility nettle.

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"A common mistake made by organisations introducing smarter working is the lack of a co-ordinated policy. They need to consult their employees, see who wants to work smarter as not everyone will want to, plan a policy and structure, and then train line managers to be able to manage a smarter working team, learning how to evaluate staff based on their outputs," says Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK.

"There is some resistance to these new methods of working, but we are trying to change practices that have been in existence for hundreds of years. It will not happen over night. It is also a generation issue. As young IT-literate managers advance in their careers, the practices of the less IT-able senior managers will become less and less important."

BT saves cold, hard cash

BT was a fairly early adopter of flexible working practices, kicking off its efforts with its first home worker way back in 1986.

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