Make 'flexible' part of the IT vocabulary to reap the benefits of greater productivity

One year on, how have the UK's work/life balance laws affected IT?

It is one year since the government introduced regulations to encourage employers to offer flexible working arrangements for staff, but how has it affected the IT industry?

Not much, according to the Department of Trade & Industry's statistics to mark the anniversary of the legislation. Its figures show that UK employers are backing eight out of 10 requests to work flexibly from parents with young children. But this is not reflected in the IT sector.

Most IT workers are demanding more flexibility in their working environment and more than half of them do not believe senior managers are leading by example in being good work/life balance role models. Many also fear that prospects for promotion will be harmed if they request flexible working practices. IT's perennial recruitment problems are not helped by this.

Flexible working gives more choice and more support to balance childcare and work in ways that benefit the employer, the employee and their children. Yet although many companies outside IT appear to benefit from the law, public policy alone is insufficient to ensure the effective modernisation of the IT department.

To remain competitive, companies need to establish a greater degree of trust and commitment from their employees, and introducing flexible working is one way of accomplishing that. IT cannot afford to drag its feet in the adoption of teleworking - a key reason for embracing flexible working is recognising the value of retaining an existing skill set in the workforce and attracting others.

An emphasis on better skills and practical qualifications looks set to grow in the years ahead, and the need to attract and retain staff, or to draw from a wider catchment of skilled workers, is vital to business success. Flexible working can result in a more productive, motivated and happier workforce as employees achieve a better work/life balance.

This industry is all about pioneering technologies that help us both at work and at home. With the availability of wireless networks, tablet PCs, smartphones and so on, you would think the sector would be leading by example, using the transformative potential of IT to free work from time and place. The industry has created the technology to allow flexible working, yet it does not quite know how to use it.

It is time that the IT industry took on board the benefits of flexible working to ensure that we innovate with, and not against, the needs of our labour market.

Changing culture in the workplace: points to consider   

As an employer 

  • Create flexible working schedules around your whole team's needs 
  • Respect the working arrangements and give plenty of notice if there is a change 
  • Provide sources of support and offer training to your flexible workforce 
  • Set regular goals to monitor performance and focus on results, not schedules.   

As an employee 

  • Keep your side of the agreement; the trust of your boss and colleagues is vital 
  • Be accessible and ensure everyone knows where you are and what you are doing 
  • Be prepared to provide emergency cover for colleagues - they will do the same for you 
  • Make the effort to attend occasional team catch-ups. Sometimes face-to-face communication cannot be replaced.

Mark Hughes is director of BT's Workstyle Consultancy

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