Bosses must bend on flexible working

3 Jul 2006

Majella Walsh and her husband Jimmy O’Friel have demanding careers. She is head of corporate communications with renewable energy firm Airtricity and he is general manager of building renovation firm Interclean.

With an 18-month-old child Oisin and another on the way, finding a means to balance work and family life is vital. Jimmy works from home on Mondays, Majella on Fridays.

Majella and Jimmy are members of Ireland’s growing army of teleworkers who rely on the flexibility afforded by technology to work remotely.

Theoretically, the advent of internet broadband and mobile telecoms should make working at home identical to working in the office. Despite the suggested benefits, only one tenth of Irish people telework.

According to a recent survey by the independent market research company TNS MRBI commissioned by O2 Ireland, little more than one in 10 (12pc) of Irish workers work from home more than four days a month.

Of those who work remotely, 37pc said they do so to increase productivity and get more done without the usual day-to-day office interruptions.

Just over a quarter of those surveyed (27pc) cited convenience as the reason and 14pc said it provides a better work-life balance. Some 11pc telework to avoid being held up in traffic.

Lack of broadband has been suggested as a key problem but in many cases ‘trust issues’ — bosses and managers being comfortable with employees working at home — are a stumbling block.

A survey carried out by human resources and training company EAP found that over 80pc of Irish companies it surveyed have no work-life balance initiative.

Sean Murphy, head of technology policy at Chambers Ireland, believes it’s time businesses took a serious look at using flexible working or teleworking to increase efficiency.

“There’s a cult of ‘presenteeism’ that permeates Irish management culture. There is a need for new management styles that focus on deliverables rather than time spent at the desk.

“Just look at the time it takes to get to work. A Transport Users Survey last year revealed that six hours per month are lost per employee in Ireland just trying to get to work. This rises to nine hours per month in Dublin.

“If people are in a nine-to-five job and constantly arrive in at 10am, isn’t that a cost to the company?

“Would it not be more productive for a worker to go online from home at 8am, answer emails and write documents and then arrive in after the rush hour?” he postulates.

Trust is still vital, a survey by HR technology firm Ceridian proves. An in-depth survey of 100 businesses found that only 3pc considered teleworkers easier to manage, with 64pc considering them to be more difficult.

John Cusack, managing director of Ceridian Ireland, commented: “Some 54pc of companies allowing home working had no formal policy in place covering home workers, and management of their productivity was usually down to their immediate line managers.

But home workers themselves are adamant that supporting teleworking initiatives will be important to companies in 21st-century Ireland.

“Working from home one day a week is useful to me as it facilitates my child-minding arrangements,” explains Majella, who lives in Donard, 20 minutes south of Blessington.

“My working day starts off by checking email on my BlackBerry and responding to emails. Because I have my deskphone transferred to my mobile, as far as anybody who rings me would be concerned I’m in the office.”

Majella is satisfied that teleworking has helped her and her husband achieve the work-life balance they need. “It works brilliantly. Being able to work from home saves Jimmy and I two hours a day that we can use to keep on top of things.”

Despite Majella’s proactive attitude to teleworking she is badly served in terms of internet. Although she lives only 30 miles outside Dublin, she cannot get broadband and has to rely on dial-up. “This is the biggest drawback. Apparently I live too far from the nearest exchange. I can still get work done in terms of email but in situations where I would have large PDF files for reviewing press coverage on Airtricity I have to get someone back at the office to send them for me. That is not ideal.”

Case study: Light fantastic

Lighting and Electrical Distribution (LED) Group is a local manufacturing company that has quickly developed its export potential and now sells overseas to UK, Europe, Middle East, Australia and South Africa.

Gary Seery, LED’s IT manager, explained that enabling its key executives to work remotely is essential. “We employ 100 people but have a staff of 35 people in the UK with no central office. We’ve equipped them and senior managers in Ireland with laptops and the ability to connect directly into our network.”

Earlier this year, the company was on the search for a remote access set-up that allowed executives to access email on the move and also access the company local area network (LAN) and send back reports on product demand.

The company selected Asavie’s, which provides LED’s staff with an easy-to-use web-based interface from which to manage their virtual private network. The system requires no internal network reconfiguration and remote users can be provisioned automatically via email or SMS. This is ideal for workers in the field who are non-technical, Seery says.

“Managers’ productivity has increased because they can stay at home one or two days a week and do administration tasks when they are in the office. We’re looking at a project where we might have telesales staff working from home in the future,” he adds.


Useful e-working web resources for businesses
An Enterprise Ireland initiative, this site contains business examples of companies using e-working, a guide to managers implementing e-working as well as a database of resources and suppliers.
Hosted by the National Framework Committee for Work Life Balance Policies, this site has practical information for employers, workers and trade unions.
The Telework Association is Europe’s largest organisation dedicated to the promotion of teleworking. Website contains useful handbooks on flexible working.
Aimed at HR managers, owner-managers, trainers, educators and policy makers, this website acts as a catalyst for innovative work practice.
Business network Chambers Ireland’s website is full of useful information on how small business can harness e-business.

Pictured: Gary Seery, IT manager with LED Group with John Byrne, business development manager with Asavie

By John Kennedy