Best practice club – No.3

The
third in a series of regular contributions from the Best Practice Club examines
how managers tackle business problems and enhance performance. In this issue,
Peter Knowles, from BT’s Workstyle Consultancy Group, talks about the many
benefits of flexible working

In
April, the Employment Act 2002 issued new, family-friendly policies regarding
flexible work.

Under
the new guidelines, parents with children under the age of six, or with
disabled children under 18, have the right to request a flexible working
pattern, and their employers will be duty bound to seriously consider their
applications.

One
company that considers itself a leader where flexible working is concerned is
British Telecom (BT). More than a decade ago, the company set up a Workstyle
Consultancy Group (WCG) to oversee the implementation of flexible working at
the company.

BT
is so convinced of the business benefits of flexible working, it has positioned
the WCG as an external proposition, turning its internal experience into
intellectual property it can share with its customers.

To
a large extent, flexible working initiatives have been driven by advancements
in IT. With the advent of broadband, all the equipment that employees need to
work from home is a phone line and a portable computer.

One
key driver for BT was staff satisfaction surveys, which showed workers were
unhappy with their work-life balance 
and wanted a change.

There
are 108,000 employees at BT. Currently, more than 7,500 of them are officially
teleworkers, who have had their contracts changed and work from home. Just over
63,000 are flexible workers, who can work from any location.

The
key strand for BT’s flexible working strategy is that it is optional. Knowles
said: "At BT, we have a process. You go to your line manager and say you
would like to be a flexible worker.

"It
can mean you don’t want to travel into London every day, but you’re quite happy
to travel to a BT building three miles from your home. Or it could mean you
have an office at home and you’d like to work from home.

"Then
there’s a selection criteria, because although you might want to be a flexible
worker, you might not be the most self-motivated person in the world. Or your
home environment might not be conducive to work."

Another
motivation behind BT’s switch to flexible working was the need to reduce the
expense of its large property portfolio.

"We’ve
been able to pay off a considerable chunk of our debt by implementing flexible
working," said Knowles. "The annual cost to support my desk with
insurance, facilities management, IT infrastructure and such when I worked in
London, was £18,000 per year. It only costs £5,000 to support me as a
home-worker.

"We
have closed loads of locations and now have a number of work-style buildings
outside of the M25 and around the country," he said. "In our
Brentwood office, there are a lot of people who have permanent desks because
that is how they choose to work. We also have hot-desks, and flexi-desks, which
are bookable hot-desks."

One
thing the WCG advises against is recruiting people directly into homeworking.
Graduates that come into the business have to do a minimum of six months based
at a location, to give them a chance to network and get a feel for the culture.

"Unless
staff are given an opportunity to establish themselves they can feel isolated.
Then we lose them after investing in training," said Knowles.

www.bpclub.com  www.wfh.com

Business
benefits of flexible working for BT


Reduced absenteeism: 3.1 per cent compared with the UK average of 8.5per cent


Staff satisfaction: BT’s workforce is 7 per cent happier than the UK average


Time savings associated with travel: 1,800 people years of time saved in travel
in one year alone


Reduced costs associated with travel: Savings of £9.7m per year


Savings on property costs: £220m over 10 years


Improved staff retention: 96 per cent of women return to BT after maternity
leave


Improved recruitment: A wider geographical recruitment area allows for the
hiring and harnessing of scarce skills and resources

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