Remote working practices are proving increasingly popular in local government as councils move to provide all their services electronically by 2005.
Camden Council in London started looking into the idea of improving the work/life balance of its employees through remote working about two years ago. According to Janet Lancaster, the council's head of employment strategy, Camden has always had a family approach, having had a range of "family- friendly" flexible work schemes in place.
But the council wanted to become an employer of choice and offer flexible working practices to all of its employees - not just the ones with children. It also hoped that addressing the work/life balance of its employees would help to reduce absenteeism and aid staff retention, thus saving costs. "We realised we had to move away from a nine-to-five mentality," says Lancaster.
A successful bid to the DFEE secured £25,000 of funding to deal with the "resistance to cultural change" embodied in some of its managers. The council held a series of workshops to show managers how to deal with these changes and to help them manage staff expectations.
The council also embarked on a major internal consultation process, disseminating information on the proposed schemes using the staff intranet, posters and staff payslips. And it encouraged feedback to find out what staff wanted and to identify any anxieties.
As well as PCs and laptops, the council supplies its remote workers with furniture and anything thing else they need to do their job. "We want them to work as effectively and productively at home as in the office," explains Lancaster.
About 200 of the council's 6,500 employees are currently working from home, either exclusively or regularly, and that number is set to rise significantly over the next three to five years.
But as the scheme develops, the council will have to develop its IT strategy, and one major consideration will be the provision of technical support.
So far, there has been a "tremendous amount" of interest in the scheme. Lancaster attributes this popularity to the fact that it is not just one of those "starchy personnel procedures."
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