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Matt Wheeler

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Election 2010: Are you voting for flexibility?


The private sector used flexible working to reduce redundancy. Will the promise of flexible working legislation be a vote winner for the political parties this general election – and how will this translate into the real world of business?

Before the election, Labour employment and welfare reform minister, Jim Knight, praised private sector employers for using more flexible forms of working to curb the need for redundancies during the recession saying; “I hope the public sector learns from the private sector in using some of those techniques.”

The results of the election are yet to be seen but one thing is certainly clear, whether it is Labour or the Conservatives or even a hung Parliament, that ends up in Number 10, all aim to extend flexible working rights and public spending cuts will be made. Matt Wheeler, Product and Marketing Director at Amano UK, discusses the business case for flexible working and the systems that will help private and public sector companies adapt efficiently to the changes it will bring.

Business benefits
All three major political parties are championing the wider adoption of flexible working schemes by employers, citing both social and economic benefits but very much focusing on the positive impact it can have for employees. For example, Labour wants to extend the right to request flexible working for older workers and increase statutory paternity leave; Conservatives want it to improve the work-life balance for five million public sector workers; and like Labour, the Lib Dems want to make life easier for families, giving fathers and grandparents more chance to take time off to look after children.

But what about the impact these extended rights will have on business performance and, most importantly, as we emerge from the recession and face stinging public sector cuts, the bottom line?

Even though the traditional working environment has undergone radical change over recent years and mobile and internet technology now enables people to work remotely more easily, businesses have typically been nervous about adopting such schemes. A recent survey by research house Vanson Bourne showed the main perceived disadvantages of flexible working included limited interaction between key workers, lack of management control over employees and security and confidentiality of information.

However, nearly half of the organisations surveyed saw flexible working as the key to higher productivity. Other advantages included retention of key staff and the ability to attract new and well-qualified employees, reduced office costs and more responsive customer services – tangible benefits that have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line.

Great in theory, but in practice flexible working schemes need to be managed and reported on accurately to be truly successful for employers and employees. With such emphasis being put on the benefits of flexible working at a political level, those businesses that do not yet possess the technological infrastructure to facilitate more flexible and mobile working patterns are in the most danger of being left behind.

Measuring performance
While the very thought of a new IT system brings to the mind headlines of vastly expensive and overdue public sector projects, the reality is far less daunting.

Flexible workforce management software systems enable businesses to synchronise time and attendance, project and activity tracking, holiday and overtime management, HR recording and integration with access control and payroll. Access and permissions can even be tailored to allow a ‘self-service’ element, allowing staff to manage their own time, releasing valuable time for HR professionals to focus on core productive activities.

Should the Conservatives reside in Downing Street, these systems could be key to helping public sector organisations adapt to the promised cuts in spending and waste reduction by increasing efficiency and reporting, while having to manage new flexible working patterns – which would be great news for suppliers looking to move into the public sector.

Advances in technology now mean that HR professionals, private and public, can respond more quickly and cost-effectively to the demands of changing working practices, even implementing new management functions immediately via the internet. Web-hosted or ‘cloud-based’ services are able to offer a flexible option for businesses wanting to easily manage time and attendance and simple HR admin online – an ideal tool for managing mobile and remote workers whilst avoiding the need to install software.

No matter what type of system organisations choose to use, there is one thing we can be certain of – 2010 is the year that all businesses must adapt to flexible working, no matter which party’s policies become reality after 6 May.

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