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Tech firms climb on flexi-working bandwagon

ADSL 'dangerous business tool'

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Government legislation coming into effect this weekend will give nearly four million working parents the right to work away from the office.

The Government's Work-Life Balance Campaign has brought about a change in the law that will allow parents of children under six, or of disabled children under 18, the right to request that their employer "seriously consider" requests for more flexible working conditions.

However, DTI statistics reveal that 56 per cent of employers have so far failed to consider introducing flexible working policies, despite the change in law, and the benefits that it can bring for both employers and workers.

That assessment is backed up by survey by employee management specialists, Crown Computing, which found that 61 per cent of human resources professionals believe that organisations are not prepared for April 6th changes in UK employment law. The study also found that more than three quarters of the personnel officers questioned reckoned workers were unaware of their new rights.

Although employees and employers are largely unprepared for the changes, IT firms are lining up to highlight how their various technologies and services can help firms introduce change.

Microsoft helpfully points out that its desktop technologies, such as Windows XP, are designed to enable remote working with a range of features including Remote Assistance, Remote Desktop and built in wireless support. Microsoft Office System, the next generation of Microsoft Office due later this year, includes enhanced XML integration as well as tools such as SharePoint Services to enhance team collaboration and easy access to information designed to boost workers' productivity regardless of their location.

Siemens Communications yesterday launched the next version of its unified messaging suite, Xpressions version 3, promoting the product as a way to improve the flexibility of an organisations workforce and increase productivity.

The six different modules of the product include hot-desking, unified messaging, fax messaging, voice mail, auto-attendant and Text To Speech (TTS) functions. These modules can be tailored to the individual needs of the different workgroups within a business.

Siemens believes the introduction of the government's flexible-working rules will spur growth in unified messaging, which can help companies improve the flexibility of an organisations workforce and increase productivity. The company says improvements in its product will ease these change.

"The technology has not taken off as quickly as was first thought due to a number of reasons including integration issues and restricted IT budgets", said Siemens Communications' Mark Bonnor-Moris. With the launch of version 3 we have addressed the niggling issues and developed a package that is cost effective and will deliver good return on investment."

Not everybody is as enthusiastic about flexible working, however.

Security consultancy MIS Corporate Defence Solutions warns "New Flexible Working Practices Could Spell Disaster For UK Security" (a rather alarmist way to highlight what is nonetheless a real issue).

Home workers are likely to be using ADSL and MIS is concerned that they could cause security problems if they connect to their corporate networks without proper authentication, encryption and anti-virus tools.

"Fundamental insecurity makes ADSL a dangerous business tool if not deployed with precautionary security devices and policies," MIS warns.

The answer here is that companies should implement or amend their remote networking procedures to pave the way for flexi-working, as MIS itself explains.

MIS is also urging the government to be "more vocal" about ADSL security when pushing broadband and home working adoption. ®

The benefits of flexi working identified by Microsoft are as follows:

Benefits for the home worker:

  • Flexibility both in work hours and in managing care of dependants
  • Less commuting
  • Lower travel costs
  • Less stress and better health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved productivity


Benefits to the employer:

  • Higher productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Lower overhead costs through reduced office space - but can be offset by higher phone bills
  • Higher customer satisfaction and easier recruitment
  • Reduced support costs: it costs an average of £10,000 to set up an office desk worker in the UK, compared to £3,000 to set up a home worker (according to a recent study by City University)


Benefits to Society:

  • Reduced traffic congestion
  • Reduced air pollution

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