While rising petrol prices caused by tensions in the Middle East and a weak pound are bad news for businesses in the UK, there are strategies which UK businesses can adopt to make themselves more efficient and actually lower costs in the medium to long-term. Brian Hudson, managing director of Performance Telecom, said: "The government and industry bodies such as the CBI should be encouraging the use of technology to enable working from home while petrol prices are so high. Most of the available technologies are already well within the grasp of UK businesses," said Hudson, "by acting quickly many businesses could realise substantial efficiencies and significantly reduce their operating costs."
Hudson said that the present astronomically high price of petrol was, in fact, a tax on going to work and a problem which UK businesses; faced with potential tanker-driver strikes and the continued squeeze on household budgets, had to come up with an answer to.
"The days when staff have to sit in rows of desks being tightly supervised are over for all enlightened enterprises", said Hudson, "Judging staff by the quality and output of their work rather than by the number of hours they are present at a common location ensures that the best can be made of home working. With the average amount of time spent commuting to working in the UK now the highest in Europe, at 90 minutes for a round trip, if staff can work from home they benefit from saving themselves not only the cost of the journey to and from work but they also stand to free up almost an entire working day a week worth of time! Most staff will only need a laptop and broadband access to enable them to be productive.
Hudson said: "Many staff are presently barred from the normal workforce because of problems with mobility or family circumstances restricting the distance they can travel from home and the number of hours per day they can commit. These often very highly skilled and motivated people could become part of a highly productive workforce if they were equipped with the ability to work from home in a structured, productive, accountable and supported way. Not only would this lower staff turnover (itself an enormous drain on HR resources) - it would also equip them with an additional part-time staff element which they do not have at the moment.
"There are experienced staff out of the current workforce, such as mothers and fathers with child-care responsibilities, who could be brought back into the workforce. We could give staff a better deal and save them money, with businesses providing practical, financial and time-viable working from home opportunities. This would suit those workers who would otherwise conclude that the time commitment - together with the high cost of travel - rule out even bothering to make an application for a job. Such steps would not only stand to make businesses more efficient but engender greater loyalty within our workforce".
Hudson also said that many of the army of one million workers that occupy seats in our call centres up and down the country could easily take their experience back to their homes, where utilising new technology would give them access to all the necessary resources and support from the office and or other home workers in their team. Technology has now moved forward to such an extent that it is possible to ensure speedy, secure remote access to key business applications remotely, and also monitor productivity and service levels. This has always been a hurdle for businesses attempting to adopt a home working strategy - but not now.
Hudson said: "It is fair to say that there is considerable potential for very noticeable inroads to be made towards the government's targets to achieve not just flexible working conditions, but also to reduce traffic congestion as well as the resulting environmental damage caused by emissions from all the various modes of transport used to travel to an office.
"As if this these considerable benefits weren't enough, the efficiencies that can be gained by organisations in the reduction in office space required and lower costs of employment matched by the substantial work / life balance improvements gained by employees, the mutual benefits are staring all of us in the face.
"Dare I say it, could this even be the basis of a contact centre employment model that is capable of financially competing with the off shore contact centres that are responsible for the loss of many hundreds of thousands of jobs from our economy and all the tax revenue that the exchequer is losing as a result? Perhaps it's time for outsourcers in the UK to become expert in the deployment of home working technology and share the benefits of this with their clients in an effort to bring jobs home and secure their own futures in the process? It's an idea whose time has come."