E-working works — that is the unanimous verdict from management and staff in the Health and Safety Authority, which was the first Government agency to complete a formal pilot programme for teleworking. It began in October 2001 with eleven staff members — about 7pc of the total — from a cross-section of functions. “First came a re-thinking of the way we manage ourselves,” says Tom Beegan, CEO. “We put a very specific performance management system in place, giving individual staff more responsibility and autonomy.”
He continues: “In that context, we are re-thinking the role of the head office. Instead of being a traditional ‘command and control’ centre it is becoming a support centre for people who are out and about with our customers as much as possible. E-working offers great flexibility within that new structure – for example, we can retain valuable and experienced people whose personal circumstances or home locations change.”
The pilot was a great success, both for the individuals participating and for their managers. A second group has been approved for e-working and will start to change their working pattern in the coming months, bringing the proportion of HSA staff on the scheme up to over 10pc. Because the HSA has regional offices around the country and inspectors who cover workplaces everywhere, from factories to farms, the flexibility of e-working fits in particularly well. Catherina Glancy, for example, is a senior inspector attached to head office who lives in Drogheda and covers industries in Cavan. “My domestic situation involves a dependent relative,” Catherina Glancy explains, “so e-working gives me maximum flexibility in organising my days while still giving the authority a full-time commitment. It would be very difficult otherwise.” Her average week involves a day in head office, two to three days on the road and one to two days at her home desk for reports and administration. With email available at the beginning and end of each day, keeping in full communication with the office has in fact never been easier.
From the point of view of Irish business, the HSA is interesting because it set out to follow best practice guidelines when setting up its e-working scheme. All of the equipment is supplied by the authority, starting with a choice of ergonomically designed workstations and chairs – including nice wood finishes to suit a home environment. Laptops and laser printers are standard and each e-worker has an ISDN connection separately from their home phones. They are even given paper shredders and fire extinguishers. They also have a formal contract that sets out the agreed terms on which everyone participates in the scheme.
“Everyone on the scheme in fact comes into the office at least one day a week, plus scheduled meetings,” explains Carmel Kearns, HSA communications manager. “In my own case, for example, I have a team of four and we meet together and one-to-one every week. That happily takes care of the slightly more formal communications and the face-to-face element is important – but we’re on phone and email as often as necessary all the time. There’s a sense in which it pushes everybody towards scheduled and necessary meetings rather than the more ad hoc style that can eat up time without necessarily matching the priorities.” She also appreciates the quiet absence of distractions at home when writing the reports, press material and speeches that are part of her job. “Yet I have the full resources of the office network and Internet access instantly available over ISDN.”
The HSA is technically well set up for its mix of standard office working, e-working and remote network access from field inspectors. “We have had field staff with laptops logging in remotely since 1993,” explains IT manager Andrew Allen. “Today it is made easy because we have HQ and six regional offices on a Wide Area Network that is totally IP-based. We use Citrix thin client architecture, so the e-workers need very little bandwidth when they log on because the work is done at the network end, so ISDN works very well although we are looking at ADSL for the future.”
Perhaps the most significant indicator about e-working in the HSA is that CEO Tom Beegan is on the scheme, working from his home in Kilkenny or the Waterford office almost as often as Dublin – and his former office in HQ has been carved into three spaces for ‘hot desking’ staff.
By Leslie Faughnan
Pictured is Catherina Glancy of the HSA, getting to grips with e-working