Taking a new approach

How the public sector can benefit from new approaches to flexible working.

The possibilities of flexible working have discussed regularly over the past few years, with technological advances allowing employees to work how they want and where they want.

To understand the true economic impact of flexible working, Citrix recently partnered with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) to find out what potential benefits a more widespread ‘work from anywhere’ culture could bring to the UK.

The research examined the entirety of the UK economy, but with the UK public sector continually being asked to do more with less, the benefits the report revealed could help the sector address some of the challenges it currently faces.

The report discovered that 96% of UK knowledge workers that have the option to work flexibly use it regularly, with a further 83% stating that they would use it if made available to them.

If such figures came into reality, Cebr calculated that it would result in an extra £11.5bn being added to the UK economy through the more productive use of available working hours.

This is the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP and doesn’t include an additional £7.1bn that commuters would save through reduced travel costs and the time spent travelling – which also has a significant value.

Empowering modern workers

Also featured in the report was additional detail on the high demand from employees in the UK to work more flexibly. 94% of UK knowledge workers would opt to work from home an average of two days per working week.

If changes to organisational culture across Britain occurred to allow this, 533 million hours of commuter time would be saved, leading not only to reduced commuter costs but a better work/life balance overall.

Such an improvement would be a welcome boost for the average UK knowledge worker, with the public sector set to reap many of the benefits in terms of productivity that greater flexible working would allow.

Increasing the talent pool

As well as improving the work/life balance of those in full-time employment, the report also highlighted the opportunities greater flexible working could deliver to the wider UK economy by involving those who were previously excluded.

This has the potential to increase the talent pool that the public sector has access to and ensure that there is greater competition for positions. In particular the research revealed that:

68% of individuals currently unemployed, retired, disabled, on long-term sick leave, acting as a carer or full-time house-husband/wife would be inclined to start working if given the opportunity to work flexibly

Moving this economically inactive part of the UK population back into the workforce through flexible working could boost the UK’s GVA (gross value added) by up to £78.5bn and add up to 4.7% to the total UK GDP

A further 60% of part-time working respondents stated they would be likely to work more hours if given the opportunity to work remotely. With the UK currently home to 745,000 part-time workers, this could create an additional £1.6bn in GVA output

Overall what’s clear from the research is that the potential impact of flexible working on the UK economy is quite considerable, and the public sector could in turn benefit significantly.

However, the trend for flexible working isn’t a new phenomenon and it certainly hasn’t passed the public sector by.

Many publicly-funded bodies are already reaping the benefits of a smarter way of working.

East Kent Services, an organisation providing shared services to Canterbury, Thanet and Dover Councils, is an example of a public body that has invested significantly in its technology infrastructure to enable a workplace transformation.

By implementing a virtual desktop solution and defining the standard user device as a laptop, it has given its employees remote and mobile access and the ability to work flexibly.

At the same time the organisation has reaped additional operational benefits by being able to reduce IT costs as well as rationalise its real estate footprint. Importantly it has also been able remove the longstanding dedicated desk approach to working, replacing it with a number of areas where employees can work and collaborate.

East Kent Services is an example of a public body that has recognised the changing nature of work and has looked to technology to not only empower their staff but also deliver a more efficient service to citizens.

As a core part of the UK economy, public sector bodies need to examine their flexible working practices to ensure that they are in line with the thinking of the modern workforce.

This will help them keep pace with private sector organisations in the ongoing talent war – with employees increasingly likely to demand to work from anywhere, any time and on any device.

Taking a modern approach to working can have a transformative effect on an organisation, delivering benefits far beyond greater flexibility for employees.

Public sector bodies need to recognise the value of flexible working and take urgent steps to implement the cultural and technological changes that will ensure they keep pace with the rest of the UK economy.

Jason Tooley is UK country manager at software supplier Citrix

Colin Marrs

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