Working gets flexible with Work Wise Week...
Flexible working practices allow 1,800 employees to work out of Severn Trent Centre office despite it being built to house 1,500 peoplePhoto: Severn Trent Water
The phrase 'office of the future' conjures up images of dazzling towers of steel and glass but if flexible working trends catch on, the workplace of tomorrow could just as easily be a semi in Bromley.
The utilities company Severn Trent Water and the Co-operative Group are part of a growing number of companies demonstrating that workers don't always need a desk.
The head offices of both Severn Trent Water and the Co-operative Group have been designed to accommodate fewer staff than will be working out of them.
Such working arrangements are made possible by flexible practices, where staff are able to access their work system at any desk in the office or to work remotely by logging in over the internet.
These businesses are demonstrating exactly the sort of approach advocated by Work Wise Week, an annual initiative aimed at promoting flexible, remote and mobile working, which finishes with National Work From Home Day.
Since the initiative was set up six years ago, the number of people working flexibly has increased from 4.3 million to 6.3 million out of the total 28 million working population.
Philip Flaxton, CEO of the event organiser Work Wise UK, said there was still work to do before flexible working was an accepted part of company practice in the UK.
"One of the biggest inhibitors to a company adopting flexible working practices is the lack of trust of staff - middle managers who say, 'I cannot see you, how do I know what you're doing?'," he said.
However, Flaxton believes the potential cost savings and improvement to staff wellbeing will fuel an uptake in enthusiasm for flexible working, predicting that half of the working population could be working flexibly by 2020.
"It ticks all the boxes for the environmental agenda and the transport agenda, and the way we climb out of the recession will drive the uptake," he said.
Flaxton said flexible working benefits organisations and staff, for example, by cutting the cost of the commute and allowing businesses to reduce their expense of running the office.
However, he said flexible working does not mean people working in isolation in their own homes, adding that companies should ensure staff working from home one or two days a week keep in regular contact with the office via phone and video chat.