So, Peter Mandelson et al want to put the brakes on the UK’s slower-than-pouring-Guinness move to flexible working by postponing broadening of rules that apply to parents of young children and others, it is reported today.
This sounds suspiciously like a sop for old-school businesses paranoid about employee productivity but, with or without the support of politicians, CIOs need to grasp the nettle now.
Office rents cost an arm, two legs and set of back teeth. Roads are busier than pubs at closing time. Public transport is broken. Work/life balance is a myth. People are valuable even in a recession and smart managers keep smart people happy. One very obvious way to knock off a lot of these problems all at once is to offer flexible working, whether through time-shifting working hours or by saying that presenteeism is a relic so you can work from home, Starbucks or other location of choice.
The data is hard to come by or rely on but it seems to me a solid hunch that companies that offer flexible working conditions buy the loyalty, creativity and productivity of their staff. Of course, some jobs demand proximity or specific working hours but in the world of knowledge workers and technology, taking a belt-and-braces approach to showing up in the office is absurd.
Successive governments have done nothing to help and the UK has been more resistant than most to challenges to our working culture – think of the Working Time Directive , for example.
In old, failing companies, the consensual wisdom is that relaxing working rules is anathema but high-margin, fast-growing companies don’t think twice about the virtues of a flexible environment. The question is: which business set does Labour want to attract?