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With or without an office…


Not long ago, "they" were saying that by the year 2000, 10 per cent of us would be teleworking. No more expensive city centre offices, no more crowded commuter trains, no more rush hour roads…. But it hasn’t happened.

Rather, the change has been to more flexibility in work patterns: part of the time at home, part (for some) out and about, and part in the office. Angela Barron, IPD Employee Resources adviser, says: "More people than ever before are working flexible hours, working shifts or part-time. Teleworking is just one strand."

Many companies do not see any value in dispersing staff to home working. Ken Giannini, a director of London architecture practice and workplace consultancy DEGW, says: "Technology enables us to work virtually but the value of offices is in bringing people together. People come to work to make contact with colleagues, share knowledge, collaborate in teams."

Yet the pressure to reduce office costs remains - and so do the benefits of teleworking. BT found that productivity rose by 20 per cent, and staff motivation soared, when people worked from home.

For many, hot desking is the solution. Whatever the percentage of staff who work away from the head office - travelling, visiting clients or working from home - they can still have desk space there when they need it.

Instead of having one desk per employee the company provides a "hub," or a number of mini-office spaces, with identical desks that can be used by peripatetic staff as they are needed. Each day, whoever is using any particular desk just has to register with the computer network and central switchboard, so that they can gain access to the tools they need and have their calls put through to them. At the end of a day in the office, any personal effects and working materials can be put into a locker until that member of staff is in the office again.

Naturally, careful planning is required to avoid employees turning up to find they do not have a space to work in. Hot-desking is at its most efficient when used in conjunction with teleworking, where people spend at least some of their working lives at home. This saves them travelling time, money and stress and reduces the employer's overheads.

Those whose jobs dictate that they spend a lot of their working life out of the office are now commonly issued with a pager, or mobile phone and/or a laptop so that they too can access the information they need on the spot. This allows them to deal with the administration there and then, instead of having to return to base with a mountain of paperwork.

These new working practices are not a gimmick. Nor for much longer will they be optional. They can make serious contributions to a company's bottom line, enhancing competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world.

They would also make a significant contribution to worker satisfaction, which should be near the top of management agenda. Especially since attracting and maintaining staff with the appropriate skills and knowledge is often a problem.


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