Government launches flexible working drive

The DTI wants to promote mobile and home working, and it's got the seal of approval from telcos and unions

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched an initiative on Wednesday aiming to get more UK employers to embrace flexible working.

Work Wise UK seeks to encourage the widespread adoption of flexible working, remote working, mobile working and work from home, in an effort to increase business productivity, reduce travel times and congestion, and improve the health of the workforce.

The long-term aim of Work Wise UK is to get at least half the population working "smarter" within three years.

"Smarter working should be integral in a modern economy," said Meg Munn MP, DTI Minister for Women and Equality. "It increases productivity, competitiveness and helps our economy perform better in the global marketplace."

BT, which stands to gain if more people use teleworking technologies such as broadband, warned enterprises that they have to change their working practices to better compete with the "tiger economies" of the East.

"As a nation we need to compete with the best in the world," said BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland in a speech on Wednesday.

"China and India are already major players on the world scene and this region alone is investing so heavily in technology and education that it will outstrip anything we have seen to date both in terms of reduced costs and product differentiation. We will be left standing if we don’t change some of our cost structures."

Employers' association the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backed the initiative, saying flexible working is increasingly being accepted by employers who see the benefits in productivity and staff retention.

"Flexible, smarter working is here to stay," said CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones.

"The challenge for us all is to strike the right balance -- both in and outside of work -- and achieve the maximum flexibility whilst still meeting the needs of our businesses and customers."

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomed the scheme, saying that the UK's long hours working culture ultimately damaged productivity, the health of employees, and the happiness of their families.

But it warned that greater employer flexibility was still needed for workers to achieve a work/life balance.

"With statistics showing that only one in seven UK employees is able to work from home occasionally, and just one in 10 is allowed to work flexibly, we still have a long, long way to go before a decent work/life balance can be achieved by everyone at work," said Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary.


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