Flexible working saves money and the environment

Allowing staff to work from home reduces pollution, waste and even helps to reduce a company's carbon footprint but beyond these strong environmental arguments there can be competitive advantages.

“There are a lot of environmental benefits if you cut down in people commuting to the office,” said David Horwood, managing director of Ihotdesk, an IT support company which champions flexible working.

“Having less people travelling to work means less pollution and you find that when people are at home they don’t tend to print out reams and reams of documents.”

Running a smaller office also has the potential to reduce energy and water consumption, he said.

“It depends on people’s home situation, but if they’ve got somebody else at home then they’re keeping it warm and lit in any case and there’s no extra energy used from them being there,” said Mr Horwood.

Critics of flexible working practices often cite the awkwardness of telling some workers they need to come to the office while their colleagues are based at home as a problem, along with difficulties motivating staff who are not kept on a tight leash.

But Mr Horwood told edie that Ihotdesk had not found either of these concerns to be an issue.

“We don’t have a strict policy on making people come into the office,” he said, illustrating his point with an example of an employee who was normally office based needing to work from home for a short period as he had builders doing work on his house.

And somebody with a poor work ethic does not tend to leave it at home if they are office based, he argued.

“To be honest, if somebody is in the office and they want to can spend time chatting to their mates on Microsoft Messenger or tapping out emails, or surf websites they can do,” he said.

“A lot of it is about trust – to do this you have to trust the people that are working for you. People realise that if that element of trust is broken then there isn’t a way back.

“The benefits do totally outweigh the potential problems.”

Ihotdesk employs home workers from Scotland to South Africa and all must be equipped with phones which allow them to make and receive tariff-free calls over the internet.

It also uses remote servers so has none in its central office.

Mr Horwood accepted there was a cost associated with the technology but said that with an IT company, much of the sting could be taken out of the bill by setting it up in-house.

“There is a cost, but you have to weigh that up against how agile that makes your company,” he said.

“There are definite competitive advantages – we have to provide 24/7 cover, for example, and because of the way we are set up people can do that from home, we don’t need to pay them to come into the office.”

Michael Cina, one of the company’s home workers, said that the advantages for the individual were enormous.

“Working from home is probably the best career move I ever made, it gives me so much more time to get things done,” he said.

“I don’t have to worry about traffic jams and don’t have the stress of getting ready on time. I’ve found myself a lot more productive because there are less distractions and I’m definitely better at meeting deadlines.”

He said he did not find motivation difficult and it was simply a case of focusing on getting the job done.

“You have to be the right sort of person with the right mentality, you need to be disciplined and have a very structured day,” he said.

“If you’re the kind of person who needs to be constantly in a team environment, then it’s not going to work, but I love the job I do.”

He also said that being home alone did not make him feel isolated.

“The job is IT support, so I’m constantly in communication with clients and with work – I feel like I’m in the office,” said Mr Cina.

And, he said, if ever you get to the point where you feel that things are going on in the office that you’re not as aware of or involved in as you could be, you can always travel to work like everybody else to catch up.

Sam Bond

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