Headlines: May 4th, 2006

An initiative has been launched to encourage smarter working practices, such as flexible working, remote working, mobile working and working from home, in an effort to ensure Britain’s economy is the most progressive in the world. Work Wise UK wants to see more widespread adoption of the new ideas.Those behind the initiative say it will increase business productivity and competitiveness, reduce transport congestion and pollution, improve health, assist disadvantaged groups, and help to balance work and family commitments. They say the increasing complexity of the world means both employers and employees have to strive to use their resources effectively.

The DTI Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn, said smarter working should be integral to a modern economy. “It also helps people. It enables us to lead more fulfilled lives, having greater choice about how we balance our work with our family commitments. These flexible work practices benefit us all,” she added.

Sir Digby Jones, the Director-General of the CBI said flexible, smarter working was here to stay. “Nine out of ten requests from staff to work flexibly have been accepted by employers and the UK leads the rest of Europe in numbers of part-time workers. New technologies will help more people in the future to ‘telework’ from home or on the move,” he said. The new ways of working, he added, would have benefits for companies seeking to recruit, motivate and retain valued staff and for employees with hectic, demanding lives.

The TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, was also keen to see working hours reduced through smarter working. Britain’s long hours culture was damaging its productivity prospects. British men, he said, worked the longest hours in Europe. This was not helping their employers become more productive, nor was it good for the health of employees or the happiness of their families.

The organisers of Work Wise UK say the advantages of an improved work-life balance are well-documented. They say although Britain is embracing smarter working practices, there is a huge scope for improvement. There are currently 5.4 million employees who have some kind of flexible working agreement, of which 2.2 million are men and 3.2 million are women. Of the total, 3.3 million people work from home in some form.

The start of Work Wise UK will involve discussions and planning, led by the CBI and the TUC, on how to deliver the vision of up to half the working population working smarter by the end of the decade. The consultation will lead to the publication of a document with across-the-board support, detailing how this can be achieved. Further information about Work Wise Week and Work Wise UK can be found at www.workwiseuk.org.