The Business Case for Flexible Working

Jan. 31, 2017


At a seminar in association with BT Japan on 30th January 2017, BCCJ members and guests heard Kaoru Iino, head of marketing at BT Japan and Yu Kashiwagi, BT's One Collaborate product specialist, share not only the company's flexible HR policies, but introduce and demonstrate the innovative technology that make flexible working possible. Peter Knowles, a consultant for BT UK on flexible working programmes joined the seminar via video conferencing from London.

An ageing society, a shrinking workforce, and a shortage of childcare facilities are putting companies in Japan under increasing pressure to modernise and adapt their working practices in order to attract and retain talented employees. The business case for flexible working is overwhelming.

BT and the rise of flexible working

Head of Marketing, Kaoru Iino, opened the seminar with a video demonstrating a day in the life of a home-based BT employee. "BT is a pioneer in flexible working for all their workforce and believes all employees should be able to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a healthy work-life balance. At BT, flexible working is business as usual. Already seven out of 10 people work flexibly and nearly 10% are homebased. This system has saved the company millions and has motivated staff and released fresh potential," said Iino.

Iino explained that BT has long been practicing flexible working - since 1990 - in the days before broadband and smart phones. At that time, point-to-point circuits were connected to individual employees' homes, which was costly, but in 2000 with the introduction of broadband, flexible working practices were expanded considerably. The Olympics and Paralympics in London further pushed the transformation as employees in London chose to avoid long commutes and crowded traffic and use the technology available to work comfortably and more effectively from home or from alternative locations.

Since 2015, BT's new "Work-smart" initiative has made it even easier by offering work-smart design, whereby employees are given the flexibility to customise their working space to encourage more productivity. The policy of non-fixed workstations and a "clear desk policy" mean employees are able to move around and sit in appropriate areas that support their work and current projects.

The pillars and types of flexible working

Iino introduced BT's four flexible working pillars 1) Diveristy & Inclusion; 2) Performance Evaluation; 3) Work Mode & Policy, and 4) Implementation, subsequently identifying the alternative types of working at BT:

  • Part-time/reduced hours (working less)
  • Job-sharing (dividing one job between two people)
  • Annualised hours (e.g. working Jan-Oct, but getting paid monthly)
  • Flexitime (flexible working hours)
  • Compressed hours (more work over fewer days)
  • Sabbatical (agreed period of time off work)
  • Wind-down options (shifting to part-time or fewer hours)

The speaker highlighted the need for the regular review of these working arrangements and the importance of adaptation. Depending on the work mode of a particular employee, requirements will differ. A fixed worker may need an individual desk on property, whereby an agile worker will not; a flexible worker will travel frequently whereas a home-based worker will stay in one location. 

Iino also reflected on the risks and considerations associated with flexible working. Health and saftey issues are paramount, which means that all flexible workers receive training to ensure they are working in a safe environment if they are based at home. There are also strict guidelines regarding Display Screen Equipment (DSE). All employees are informed about issues such as the distance betweeneyes and monitor, and the compliance of their work chair/desk with specifications. Negligence is also a risk to be aware of, and finally, equality must be guaranteed at all times.

Benefits for business

The benefits of flexible working practices for business are huge, said Iino. BT has saved 715 million euros per year for six years, travel expenses have been massively reduced, productivity has increased, absenteesim was reduced by a remarkable 63%, CO2 emmissions were reduced, and the post-maternity leave retention rate was considerably increased - an issue of particular relevance to Japan which is actively encouraging women to return to work after childbirth.

Innovative conferencing communication technology

Yu Kashiwagi, BT Japan's Head of Unified Communication and Collaboration, then proceeded to demonstrate to the participants the latest "Dolby Voice®" technology used by BT for flexible working: "This software solution can lower communication costs, provide meeting access from anywhere, and it works with your existing infrastructure." 

Kashiwagi explained that Dolby Voice redefines conferencing audio by replacing typical noisy and awkward calls with the natural sound and feel of an in-person meeting. "The innovative technology guarantees exceptional voice clarity while suppressing background noise so you'll easily hear what's being said, at longer ranges, too. Everyone can be heard, even participants with soft voices. Advanced features such as full-room voice capture, spatial voice separation, and an intuitive user interface, ensures that the conference phone system brings everyone into the room and also makes it easy to understand non-native English speakers with different accents. Distractions are removed and calls are much easier to follow."

The speaker added that Dolby Voice can easily be accessed from a desktop, mobile device, or from the meeting room. Whichever device is used, the quality is not compromised. 

Kashiwagi had one seminar participant go to another room to demonstrate the quality of the software. The participants experienced first hand the incredible sound clarity and ease of communication. 

Implementing a flexible working policy

Peter Knowles, a consultant for BT UK who joined the seminar via video conferencing from London, led the next part of the seminar by explaining how a business can successfully roll out of a flexible working strategy.

Knowles explained that it is not just about making it possible for people to work from home, but about changing the whole culture of how they work. "It’s also about managing people, processes, property and budgets carefully, and deciding on the best working styles for your business."

The speaker highlighted the importance of getting everyone on board with minimum disruption, and ensuring everyone understands the benefits. Knowles said that working patterns that suit the employees should be identified so everyone can work efficiently. "Flexible working empowers employees and employers alike, and most importantly, builds a relationship of trust."

"When employees are working from other places, you’ll need less space in your office. You’ll spend less on recruitment, as staff turnover will go down. You could even take on more people without having to move offices. And you’ll still cut your carbon footprint because there’s less travelling. Flexible working can help you adapt to changing market conditions faster, as well meeting customer needs more speedily. It will also mean you’re meeting legal requirements to offer flexible working to parents, carers and people with disabilities."

Flexible working in Japan

In the subsequent Q&A session, BCCJ members and guests focused on the situation in Japan, where traditional, non-flexible working conditions are the norm. Questions were asked about insurance and pension payments for part-timers; how to change the Japanese mindset of "presenteeism = hard work"; what the "clear-desk policy" entails, and how a company can ensure staff morale if there is no single shared office.

Iino and Knowles acknowledged that it might take longer for Japanese companies to adapt to new working policies, but that it is possible with the right training and a support structures in place. For instance, if an employee is reluctant to work from home or to give up his or her work station, establish why, and find solutions together.

With regard to the clear-desk policy, employees do have a tendency to be territorial, but this disappears when one no longer has personal photos and belongings on the desk. Knowles also pointed out that having different locations does not have to impact employee cohesion negatively. "Work-smart facilities are designed to foster greater networking and collaboration amongst employees, and regular meetings and social events are held on a monthly basis."

BT's flexible working experts communicated clearly to seminar participants that flexible working is fast becoming a management philosophy that underpins 21st-century business: a means of generating and sustaining competitive advantage, improving productivity, optimising the customer experience, allowing greater flexibility for employees of all types, and integrating and streamlining work processes right across the organisation.

Learn more about BT's flexible working practices HERE

View photos from the event on BCCJ Flickr HERE

___________________________________________________________________________________________

More news from the BCCJ 

Welcoming the new Ambassador to Japan

Barclays Japan on Brexit

The Benefits of Serving on a Board

PM May's Brexit Speech: Six Key Points

MBE for Services to British Music in Japan

UK Arts in Japan: David Bowie is

Proposal to raise threshold of 'elderly' to 75

Jeremy Hunt MP Secretary of State for Health visits BCCJ

The Ikumen Project: Leading by Example