The Work Wise UK Summit took place today (May 21) at the QEII Conference Centre in London. Hosted by Declan Curry, BBC One Breakfast’s business presenter, it included speeches from the Rt Hon. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC and Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association.
The theme of this, the third Work Wise UK Summit, was the environmental impacts of work and how the wider adoption of smarter working practices could make a major contribution to solving the environmental catastrophe predicted by many.
Dr Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, explained the damage human activities are causing to the planet providing the unequivocal reason for the wider adoption of smarter working practices. He said: "The world is definitely getting warmer, and it is very likely that this is due to our ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. To slow down climate change, we will need to reduce our emissions - smarter working could make an important contribution to this."
David Lennan, chairman of Work Wise UK, said; “More and more organisations are realising that they have a moral and social obligation to consider, and mitigate, their activities’ impact upon the environment in which they operate.
“There are a myriad of ways in which organisations can introduce smarter working practices, even where it is not immediatly apparent. There are various forms of smarter working, including regular or occasional home working, various forms of flexible working, remote and mobile working.”
One of the key benefits of smarter working is that it reduces the overall need to travel. Commenting, Edmund King, AA president said: “Three hundred AA employees are saving 90,000 litres of fuel or 620,000 miles commuting each year by working from home. The AA and our employees benefit in many ways. Homeworkers can do a split shift which covers the busiest times on the road in the morning and evening peak.
“In transport terms home working cuts out the commute, reduces congestion and carbon emissions. Hopefully other companies will follow the AA lead to put more workers on the superhighway rather than the actual highway now that the technology is much more affordable.”
Smarter working also has a significant impact upon public transport systems. Transport for London is a Work Wise UK strategic partner and recognises its importance in managing demand on the transport network in London.
Ben Plowden, director, smarter travel unit, at Transport for London explained: “Since Transport for London was created in 2000, Londoners have started to change the way that they travel, with the capital becoming the only major world city to have achieved a shift away from the use of cars toward public transport, walking and cycling. Our smarter travel programmes have helped to show Londoners what can be achieved by acting locally, underpinning the message that we can all do something to tackle congestion and climate change.
“Smarter working is a concept that fits perfectly with smarter travel programmes. By offering people flexibility in when and where they work, as well as how they get there, we can all benefit – economically, environmentally and socially.”
BT has been pioneering the introduction of smarter working practices for over a decade, but it is not only the environment that has been benefitting. BT currently has 13,590 registered homeworkers, which has resulted in accommodation savings of £40 million per year. (£350 million to date). Smarter working has resulted in an average of 15 per cent and up to 31 per cent productivity gains, with sick absence reduced to 1 per cent on average and staff retention significantly improved – 99 per cent returners from maternity leave versus the national average of 70 per cent.
Apart from the environmental benefits and the cost saving and better productivity for businesses, staff and employees themselves are major benefactors from the introduction of smarter working practices. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Real progress has been made in persuading more employers to offer innovative flexible working practices. Those employers that take the plunge report back benefits to their business, including improved productivity, reduced costs, and better staff recruitment, retention and motivation.
“What a shame then that all we ever seem to hear from the business lobby is continued negativity towards flexible working. Last week’s all-so-predictable bleating around extending the right to request was a case in point.
“But despite the good news on flexible working, over the last year there have been worrying signs of a long hours cultural renaissance. An increasing number of employees are expected to work more than 48 hours a week and put in extra hours for free. We must all work to ensure that these are temporary blips and not developing trends.
“As we enter a period of economic uncertainty, it’s tempting for employers to retreat from innovative working practices and instead work existing staff harder and longer. But the need for increased productivity is greater than ever, which makes this the perfect time for companies to introduce smarter working practices. Those employers who are keen to make flexible working work for their business and staff will find willing accomplices in trade unions.”
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Issued on behalf of Work Wise UK by Chelgate Limited
Notes to editors:
Work Wise UK is organised by the IT Forum Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation.
Supporters of the Work Wise UK campaign include the CBI, TUC, the British Chambers of Commerce, BT, Transport for London, Equal Opportunities Commission, Scope, the RAC Foundation, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, Technology Means Business, Henley Management College and the Association for Commuter Transport.
A dedicated electronic media centre has been established for journalists to obtain further information, to download print-quality materials, and to register for media updates about Work Wise UK. This can be accessed either through the main website or directly at www.workwiseuk.pressrooms.net.
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