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Smarter Working Practices encouraged

A number of leading businesses and organisations, including the CBI and TUC, have today (January 22) signed an agreement to encourage the wider adoption of smarter working practices across the UK, to help bring about a workplace revolution.

Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, and Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, were the first to sign the ‘concordat’ supporting the development and implementation of the Work Wise UK campaign and objectives.

Work Wise UK, a not for profit initiative, is in the first year of a five year programme to promote the wider adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible working, working from home, mobile and remote working, to bring about a workplace revolution, similar in impact to the Industrial Revolution which Great Britain led in the 19th century.

Brendan Barber, general secretary if the TUC, said: "Introducing smarter working practices across UK workplaces would give employees more choice over their hours and working patterns. Greater flexibility that allows people to work from home occasionally could have a major impact on their lives. Less time would be wasted commuting and people would get to see more of their friends and families. It would also help reduce stress levels, allowing staff to be more effective at work and healthier generally.”

The benefits of smarter working are enormous: with positive implications on employees’ work-life balance and travelling time, and improvements in productivity which will help the UK meet the competitive challenges presented by the emerging economies, such as India and China.

Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, said: "Many businesses are already reaping rewards from more flexible and smarter ways of working, achieving improved productivity and staff recruitment and retention. Local communities and the environment benefit too. The right balance must, of course, be struck between employees having maximum flexibility and businesses remaining competitive and meeting customers’ needs."

“The success of the British economy depends upon an enterprising industry with a skilled and innovative workforce. Workwise UK provides a unique opportunity for employers and employees to work together to create mutually beneficial ways to work. This should make the British economy more dynamic and efficient so it is fit to thrive and compete internationally:” said David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

Apart from its impact on productivity and competitiveness, smarter working is also part of the answer to a number of other key issues currently facing the UK economy. Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, explained: “Smarter working will make a significant contribution to addressing the environmental catastrophe predicted by the Stern Report. Changing working practices through smarter working will reduce the need to travel, thus lowering fossil fuel use and emissions.”

Similarly, the road congestion predicted by the Eddington Report because of the growth of car use could be averted through smarter working. Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, also a signatory to the concordat, explained: “The Eddington report suggests that road pricing is a "no-brainer" yet national road pricing is at least ten years away and public opposition logged via a Downing Street petition is growing daily. The appeal of smarter working is that it could lead to a significant reduction in congestion and carbon emissions immediately with the full support of the public. If people could work from home just one day a week this would be equivalent to removing the amount of traffic we see disappear during the school holidays."

In addition to reducing road use, smarter working practices will also impact upon public transport, especially in major urban areas such as the south east. More people working flexibly, remotely, or from home, means less need to travel, reducing overall demand on transport and staggering peak period usage. Less crowded trains and buses will make the journey more tolerable for those who have no choice but to travel.

Transport for London (TfL) is also a signatory of the concordat, and a strategic partner for Work Wise UK. Ben Plowden, Managing Director of Group Communications at TfL said: “In the next 15 years, the capital’s population is expected to grow by 800,000, which will greatly increase the demand on the public transport network. By working with our Work Wise UK partners, TfL aims to help organisations make full use of the opportunities that smarter working can offer both employers and their employees.”

Another signatory to the concordat, BT, and also the first corporate body to become a strategic partner to Work Wise UK, is one of the UK’s leaders in the introduction of smarter working practices with 80,000, of its workforce, including around 12,000 homeworkers, working flexibly.

As well as a 20 per cent increase in productivity, BT has saved more than £80 million in travel and other costs because of increasing use of conference calls rather than face-to-face meetings. BT staff who decided to use conference calls rather than drive to a meeting saved around 300 miles each time. One in four of the replaced meetings would have been in London, while the overall savings to BT are estimated at between 10 and 15 times greater than the cost of providing conferencing facilities.

Sir Christopher Bland, BT chairman, said: "The use of conferencing services within BT is now the preferred way to work in many parts of the business. It enables BT people to better manage their work life balance and saves huge amounts of travel with associated costs and environmental impacts."

Dr Colin Black, chairman of the Association for Commuter Transport, said that ACT is delighted to support the Work Wise project: “Smarter working can play a key role helping organisation to realise the potential of their Travel Plan by increasing businesses efficiency and productivity. At the same time it delivers staff benefits that enhance an organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice, demonstrates commitment to CSR goals and reduces traffic congestion."

Other initial signatories of the concordat include the British Chambers of Commerce, Scope, Technology Means Business and Henley Management Centre.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.