Tech backs work from home revolution

Rejoice, you office workers who dread inane chatter 'round the water cooler and being glued to your desks, for today there is a legitimate reason to stay at home.

National Work from Home Day, organised by the not-for-profit group Work Wise UK, is upon us once more and an estimated five million workers in the UK are taking advantage of it, as is the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Brendan Barber, who fully embraces the concept.

"Being able to work from home every now and again is a sensible move for individuals and their employers. Smart employers know this already. Now it's time for the rest to wake up to the benefits of flexible working," he said.

National Work from Home Day is designed to highlight the benefits of smarter working practices by encouraging employees to work from home for the day. It also aims to demonstrate that without office stress and long commutes, people can be more productive.

But fallen stress levels, reduced traffic on the roads and less crowded streets would not be possible without widely accessible home technology, according to chief executive of Work Wise UK Phil Flaxton.

"This is not a utopia. This will be reality as smarter working practices such as home working, become more widely adopted."

It's thought that nearly 3.5 million people already work from home, which provides costs savings and increased productivity benefits for many organisations. As the physical office becomes less essential to a worker's productivity, businesses need to address unified communications such as voice, internet and mobile solutions.

BT is one such organisation that has already benefited from remote and mobile working practices. Since 2003 the number of offices it operates has fallen from 159 to 94, which has reduced the number of workstations provided by 18,545 and the floor area required by 2.4 million square feet, leading to a saving of 88 million per annum in overheads such as rates, rent and repairs.

However, there are many organisations that still aren't equipped for their employees to work from home. Director of marketing EMEA at Aruba Networks Roger Hockday said that in reality many companies just aren't ready to offer all work applications needed for a mobile and remote workforce in order to ensure productivity and security.

"This is a brilliant idea in theory, but unfortunately the reality is that many companies still aren't properly equipped to allow their employees to work from home," he said.

"Access to corporate email alone isn't enough. Companies need to seamlessly deliver all enterprise voice, video and data applications to ensure maximum productivity away from the office. Security is also an issue. Home networks are often uncontrolled and unsecured, providing an easy target for hackers."

"Organisations have to seriously rethink their corporate IT models if they are to successfully deliver the enterprise experience to mobile workers without inconvenience or stress," said Hockaday.

National Work from Home Day follows Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement to extend flexible working provisions for parents with older children, which could have negative ramifications on small businesses struggling to keep up with a mobile workforce and technology.

However, according to Flaxton, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) need not fret about the new legislation.

"SMEs do have to take a practical systematic approach, devising a plan for the implementation of flexible working in the organisation. Work Wise UK has developed various free online resources to assist organisations wishing to implement smarter working practices.

"Smarter working has been shown time and again to increase staff productivity and reduce costs, as well as improving staff wellbeing and providing a better work-life balance. BT has been pioneering the concept of smarter working for over a decade and has seen productivity improvements of 20 per cent."