· 4 min read · Features

Flexible working: Technology

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The future of flexible working is here, today. David Woods browses through some of the technology already available that makes flexi-working a hard-to-resist reality.

PAPER REDUCTION

Employees can view magazines, newspapers, company reports, government forms and documents online, reducing the need for printing.

SHRINKING ELECTRONICS

Flat screens, wireless keyboards, wireless mice and wireless printer technology will free up space in the home office for a calmer, more productive workplace.

TIME AND ATTENDANCE

What is the technology? Employees working remotely or from home can use a website to log on so their employer is aware they have started work. Staff then log on and off throughout the day as they take breaks and finish work. If staff are out and about, they can use their mobile phone to access an automated time-and-attendance phone line.

Who offers it? Crown Computing. Its managing director Mike Hawkesford, explains: "This is one of our core products allowing employers to monitor flexible or homeworkers. But this relies on the common sense of employees to use it properly."

What else is out there? SMART - for the lone worker.

How does it help employees to work flexibly? Using a mobile phone and a series of 'check' calls and voice messaging the system is designed for staff who work from home or work alone. It provides employees with a sense of protection while working remotely as well as enabling an employer to meet their duty-of- care obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

How does it work? The employee working from home or remotely will use the system to record a message stating where they are going and to request a call from their employer at a certain time or within a number of hours. The check call is made automatically leaving a recording to ask the employee to call back and confirm they are safe. If the return call is not made, an alert is raised to a response centre and help is sent. Each phone can be pre-programmed with a dedicated one-touch alarm that will raise an alert by dialling a single key. The phone will send out a pin code to the response centre to identify the person and send help to the location, identified using GPS technology. This service works with any phone on any network on a landline or mobile.

CONNECTIVITY

Advertising agency Radioworks is living proof flexible working technology does not have to involve complicated implementation systems. Chairman Stan Park explains: "We were doing some advertising for an American company called Citrix, which was promoting a product called gotomypc.co.uk. (Website gotomypc.co.uk allows employees to access their workplace servers and files remotely from any web-browser). In order to fully understand the product, we thought it would be a good idea to try it out ourselves." That was three years ago, and since then Radioworks staff haven't looked back. Park says: "About a quarter of our staff use the system. We have a high proportion of female staff and some of them work from home one day a week. Some staff work from home between one and three days every week." He adds: "Employees are incentivised by working from home and are saving money from travel costs as well."

SECURITY

Security for flexible workers might sound like an additional conundrum for bosses. But Commerce Media has created a product that requires two passwords from remote or home workers when logging into company networks - one password they already know and one that is sent to their mobile phone each time they log in. If there is no phone signal, employees can nominate another way to receive the password such as email. Michael Robertson, managing director, Commerce Media,says: "When employees log on and enter the password they know, the systems triggers another alphanumeric text to their mobile phone. It has a set life expectancy, so staff need to use it quickly - this stops anyone else logging in." Few organisations in the UK have tighter security than the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Commerce Media originally developed the product for its staff, so it is safe to say the technology gets the MoD's seal of approval.

LOCATION TRACKING

What is it? MobiBiz Time Collection from Auto Time Solutions enables management to monitor remote workers and pinpoint their exact locations.

How can it help flexible working? Employees clock in and out of work from a standard mobile phone, PDA or BlackBerry. Once logged in, the system wirelessly tracks the worker's location. Managers can also set specific parameters to monitor employee movement. The movements of all employees can be monitored and fed into one central point, allowing managers to calculate hours worked, project payroll costs and receive email notifications about staff whereabouts, so HR can monitor staff attendance and safety no matter where they are. "The MobiBiz system goes far beyond any traditional time and attendance system," says Christian Berenger, business development director at Auto Time. "The fact that it operates using standard mobile phones means it is a cost-effective time management solution and offers an excellent return on investment."

Who's using it? Land management company Avondale Environmental Services uses MobiBiz Time Collection to monitor its remote workers on a daily basis. Sarah Back, finance director at Avondale Environmental Services, explains: "MobiBiz has proved a valuable addition to our time management system. Not only does it allow us to easily keep track of employee movements but it has also proved highly cost-effective. Clocking on is simple for our remote operatives and it has an easy-to-use interface for administration staff."

BROADBAND COMMUNICATIONS

Broadband broadens horizons - from within the confines of the home. The home worker's office is their kingdom; they commute from their bedroom to their study, thanks to the growth of broadband technology and Wi-Fi.

TELEPHONE

Home phones can be work phones: calls to an employee's work number can be re-routed to either their landline or mobile phone between certain hours of the day.

MOBILE PHONE COMMUNICATIONS

This allows staff to access emails and messages while on the move. Employees in Glasgow are now able to use their mobile phones on the underground.

- One in five employees (17%) lack the technology and support to work from home - (study by Plantronics2)

- 62% of employees would be more productive if they were allowed to work from home but only 25% are given the opportunity to do so - (a study by Plantronics2)