· Features

Flexible working and the Olympics

Whitehall last month announced plans to introduce flexible working schemes for civil servants during the Olympics and Paralympics. The scheme has been set up in an attempt to reduce disruption caused by the additional 20 million public transport journeys that will be made during the Games.

Despite flexible working becoming a hot topic, commentators have typically met the idea of flexible working schemes with some trepidation. And concerns are being raised over these latest developments. Many have argued that working from home will cause a fall in the Government's work rate for a relatively long period of time.

However, this move towards flexible working needn't lead to a fall in productivity. Indeed, the opposite might be the case. We are now seeing progression towards home working practices, with flexible working initiatives becoming far more widely used than ever before. Recently, a study by Hanson Search in association with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has revealed that senior employees are now more prepared than ever to quit their jobs over a lack of flexible working provision. Tellingly, eight of ten interviewees expressed their belief that flexible working can bring time management and efficiency benefits to employers and employees.

The Office for National Statistics has revealed that more than a quarter of the British workforce sometimes works at home. The technological improvements we have seen in this area have meant that it is now far easier to cope, and even thrive, working remotely. This was proven recently by O2, which shut down its head office in Slough and allowed all employees to work from home for the day.

If the right systems are in place prior to the Olympics, flexible working schemes will help businesses bypass any problems and could actually have a positive impact on the workforce and its productivity.

Workforce dispersion can create difficulties for HR teams when keeping employee data up to date, recording time and attendance and monitoring sickness and holiday. If the Olympics had come to London ten years ago, setting up home working schemes would have been a lot more difficult.

The introduction of cloud hosted software in the past few years lends itself perfectly to flexible working initiatives. Cloud hosted HR, payroll and time and attendance solutions offer HR and line managers the sort of information they need to manage remote workers. It means they can access data from anywhere on a centralised system, reducing the complexity of managing a diverse and flexible workforce.

Through using specially designed technology, businesses can build efficient work flows into their own internal systems and cloud hosted solutions do this most effectively. The constant access provided by cloud hosted software ensures visibility, which simply would not have been possible without the technology improvements that the sector has seen. In addition employees have constant accessibility to data through self-service software solutions, which can help organisations engage their workforce.

Software tools ensure that it is the technology, and not the HR team, that is left to do the leg work when managing a flexible work force. This makes it easier for both employers and employees to keep track on their time management. Modern time and labour management solutions enable employees to input the data into the system themselves, freeing up time for the HR team for value-added activities and ensuring data is kept up-to-date.

From an online portal, cloud hosted solutions give employees the ability to break down and record specifically what activities they have been working on in any given period, ensuring complete accuracy. The HR team and line managers can use this data to painlessly access reports and information regarding the workforce. In fact, modern systems allow flexible workers to focus on their productivity rather than time. Instead of hours worked, workers can record what tasks they have completed, thus removing the burdens of a strict nine to five working regime, yet maintaining a focus on an efficient workforce. Of course balance needs to be struck between the demands of the business to have employees present and the lifestyle benefits to employees of remote working. Cloud based systems can support both the employers need for visibility and the employees need for connectivity with the business and clients.

Businesses can gain enormously by embracing flexible and remote working but they will only be able to reap the benefits if they have the practices in place to effectively manage their workforce remotely. However, if employers are prepared to embrace the progression towards flexible working practices, this summer's Olympics could change the way we work permanently.

Trevor Townsend, product director, ADP