DTI’s teleworking guide draws concern

Link: Companies boosted by work/life imbalances

The document is intended to encourage harmonisation with European rules and is part of the government’s commitment to promoting greater work/life balance in the UK.

The DTI said flexible working could improve work-life balance, reduce staff travel time and help regional business development. However, the report – produced with the Confederation of British Industry, the Trade Union Congress and public-sector employer group CEEP UK – inadvertently suggests implementing the guidelines could be a costly and time-consuming process.

On the contentious area of health and safety, the DTI recommends conducting risk assessment and ensuring electrical equipment at workers’ homes complies with safety regulations. It adds that firms should consider security measures, including the locking of home offices and secure destruction of documents. It warns that company insurance policies may need to be updated.

Finance departments may balk at the recommendation that firms offer business-dedicated communications links and consider expense allowances for staff travel to office meetings. The report also recommends that the costs of lighting, heating and wear and tear be taken into account.

Other suggestions relate to softer issues. Teleworking NVQ courses should be considered. Productivity measures should take into account the home worker’s self-administration tasks, employers should not contact staff out of agreed hours and personal support should be provided. ‘Telework … can place particular stresses on employees,’ it warns. ‘Not everyone will be suited to working for long periods of time on their own.’

However, experts said any DTI endorsement would help to make the case for teleworking.

‘It’s a one-size-fits-all publication, but you’ve got to apply it to your business needs, so some of the risk assessments will not be necessary,’ said Gordon Napier, marketing manager of VIA Networks, a provider of managed internet services.

Ian McKeown, European chief information officer at Nortel, said, ‘The DTI sets out the information in layman’s terms. We have nearly a third of our workforce able to telework. It’s a way you can see the kids and have a better work-life balance.’

About 2.2 million people in the UK used IT to work away from the office when the numbers were last counted in spring 2001. The total increased by 65% in the four years to 2001 and will grow at about 400,000 a year, the DTI forecast.

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