UK IT Departments Face Remote Working Rise

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New government regulations could extend flexible working to an extra 4.5 million UK staff

An increase in the numbers of UK workers who have access to flexible working could impact companies whose IT systems are not set-up for remote access.

Changes to flexible working rights set to be introduced from the 6 April could see up to 4.5 million workers allowed to work part-time or remotely, the government announced late last week.

Currently around six million parents and carers already have the right to request flexible working from their employers but this has now been extended to include another 4.5 million parents of children aged 16 and under.

“This is about balancing work and family life. Both workers and employers have felt the benefits of flexible working since we first introduced the right to request,’ said employment relations Minister Pat McFadden. “Firms can still say no if they have legitimate business concerns, but more than 95 percent of all requests for flexible working from working parents and carers are now accepted, as employers recognise the benefits more and more.

The government’s Business Link advice site claims the potential impact on IT departments could include making sure that staff can access email remotely. “How flexible are your IT arrangements, eg can employees access their email away from the workplace?,” the site claims.

A spokesperson from the British Computer Society (BCS) said flexible working has been made easier thanks to so-called “web 2.0 technologies” but IT departments still have to work very closely with the HR department for flexible working to be a success. “Companies should not confine web 2.0 technologies to flexible workers, but use it to help teams work more collaboratively, whether that is from the office, or from home,” the spokesperson said.

The increasing popularity of hosted – or cloud applications – such as Google Mail and Docs, mean that there are low-cost platforms for remote staff to use however the effectiveness of such consumer-focused applications depends on how well they can be integrated with a businesses’ existing IT systems.

But the security and reliability of hosted applications has also been questioned recently.

Companies will also have to consider any remote working procedures carefully after a rash of data breaches over the last 12 months has seen security become even more of a key issue for IT departments.

As well as helping support other staff who want to work remotely, some industry experts claim IT departments, and IT companies, may be impacted by the disruption flexbile working could cause – especially given the global downturn. “IT companies are bound to be concerned about the impact this could have with so many more workers potentially requesting a change to their hours,” said Barry Hoffman, UK HR director at IT services provider Computacenter. “The challenge to staff a call-centre, provide ‘follow the sun’ support or even plan business continuity in IT companies when your workforce is working flexibly, shouldn’t be overlooked by the government.”

According to government statistics, flexible working is growing across UK businesses, with around 93 percent of employers now offering at least one form of flexible working. The government also claims that around 95 percent of all requests for flexible working from working parents are agreed, with small businesses being the most open to requests.

In the run-up to April 6th, the government claims it is also contacting businesses to make sure they know where to find the free help available and do not need to pay for external advice.

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