Businesses and employees’ views on flexible working not compatible

21 Mar 2012

Gina Quinn, CEO of Dublin Chamber of Commerce with Microsoft's Jeremy Showalter and acrobalance artist Lisette Krol

Only 11pc of Irish employers are actually doing something about flexible working despite lofty pronouncements by 74pc claiming they are open to it.

In a report that seems to swerve past the obvious factor that conservative-minded employers prefer to see workers at their desks to believe they are actually working, a Microsoft-commissioned survey found that 11pc of employers provide the technology to enable flexibility.

More than 30pc of employees surveyed found they have not received any guidelines for flexible working while 69pc of businesses claim they have policies in place.

This is despite the drain on productivity and the environmental impact of long commute times.

Only 26pc of firms with flexible working practices provide remote desktop connections to allow employees to work outside the office.

Only 32pc of firms have invested in collaborative videoconferencing technology to enable flexible working in the last 12 months.

The survey reflects a tension between employee demands, new technological capabilities and how businesses are adopting these strategically.

Again, while 94pc of firms say they believe technology improves collaboration, they are relying on their staff to supply their own laptops, smartphones and other devices to boost flexibility and productivity.

Characteristics of the new workplace

Microsoft has developed a New World of Work guide to help firms implement a flexible working strategy for their employees to boost work-life balance and at the same time help firms enjoy the benefits of a technology-enabled, flexible workforce.

According to the guide, characteristics of New World of Work managers include greater emotional intelligence, greater communications skills, coaching rather than supervision and inspirational and authentic leadership.

Workplaces where New World of Work principles are in place are characterised by environments where employees voice their opinions and ideas openly and good people are supported and nurtured. Success is measured by the outputs rather than inputs or activity.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to new ways of working,” explained Microsoft director Martin Cullen.

“Each business has to go on its own journey. But the need to make these changes has never been greater. The continuing economic crisis along with an increasing lack of skilled workers, and the need for greater business efficiency and agility presents a compelling case for businesses to adopt flexible working as a cornerstone of their future success.

“This guide was developed to aid Irish businesses and their employees to create a dialogue which can enable greater efficiency, productivity and cost savings to be achieved and so there is a clear understanding of how and why a more flexible work ethos would be mutually beneficial to both the business and to employees,” Cullen said.

His views were backed by Dublin Chamber of Commerce chief executive Gina Quinn, who said every organisation should be looking at their business models to ensure efficient and cost-effective service delivery.

“Flexible working has real tangible benefits for employers and employees, as it helps create a cost-efficient company, saving large sums on office space and other overheads, such as electricity, office equipment and housekeeping costs.

“Furthermore, it can create more productive workers by giving employees the opportunity to devote quality time to their work,” Quinn said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years