Change to flexible working legislation to increase pressure on IT to support teleworking

By Dave Bailey
20 Mar 2009 View Comments
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A UK flexible worker
Potentially large increase in flexible working could strain IT resources

On 6 April, legislation extending employees' right to request flexible working will come into force. The changes will extend the right to ask for flexible working conditions to parents with children under the age of 16.

This could mean the right to work flexibly being extended to an additional 4.5 million workers, so having a flexible working policy will be critical for businesses if a significant number of those potentially eligible take up the legal right. IT chiefs should be prepared.

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"Flexible working is not only important in allowing individuals to better balance work with other commitments but as research has shown it enables businesses to operate more effectively in a changed society," a Trade Union Congress spokesman told Computing.

Both the TUC and business group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) support the notion of flexible working. But that is not a view shared by all. In a recent survey of 3,743 employees by BT Business and Nortel, less than one in 10 (8 per cent) small businesses in the UK trusted their employees to work out of the office, despite 42 per cent of employees polled being confident that they could work better remotely.

Even though small businesses may distrust their staff, a recent online survey of 255 UK IT managers from firms having between 10 and 250 employees by BSkyB subsidiary Easynet Connect, produced figures showing that 75 per cent of firms are trying to reduce office costs by adopting remote working.

Dealing with requests on a piecemeal basis is a recipe for disaster for firms, and employers who do not have policies in place to service requests from employees with children under the age of 16, could be caught out after 6 April.

However, even where policies are established, technology problems can undermine flexible working initiatives. Can a standard residential broadband connection be relied on to give businesses the surety of access and performance needed?

Access to back-office system data and applications also necessitates secure connectivity for the home worker, usually involving virtual private networks.

Quocirca communications analyst Rob Bamforth says that flexible workers need reliable and robust broadband connections.

"While home working may not bring the network down, just like increased TV viewing online, pupils and teachers connecting back to education online, and remote healthcare etc, it all adds up to increased reliance and dependence on the network,” he said.

CIOs also need to address the potential for helpdesks and IT managers to support staff who take advantage of flexible working. Questions such as the performance of home network infrastructure can be addressed by signing up to a business broadband package. Since such packages necessarily come with a service level agreement, the price is higher than that for a standard residential connection.

Moreover, there are extra benefits to business broadband packages, such as lower contention ratios and static, rather than dynamic IP addresses.

Firms with well-established flexible working arrangement can also reap other benefits. While London may have ground to a virtual standstill during the worst of the February snow, businesses that had previously made arrangements for staff to work effectively from home were able to function.

But while the snow caught some firms off-guard, the changes coming on the 6 April should not be allowed to.

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