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Flexible working: Is PR ahead of the times?

Today, I am working from home. There are two reasons for this. One is that there is a nice man downstairs ripping out my old kitchen to replace it with a brand spanking new one. The second is that I had an 8am conference call this morning and to get to the office in time I would have to be up at 6am, which for someone who detests mornings is no fun at all.

I did the same a couple of months ago when there was a tube strike. My team and I took our laptops home and looked forward to the lie-in not commuting would afford us. We are well used to communicating via Skype, email and sharing files on DropBox. Often there is no need to be sat next to each other.

I am lucky that I have this flexibility. A friend of mine lives down the road and also works in London for an insurance firm. She is my travelling buddy. But on tube strike day she was on her own. She got up ridiculously early, got on the train in Liverpool Street and then walked to her office at Bond Street. She did the same on the way home. All in all I estimate she was travelling for around 5 hours that day and consequently she spent the following weekend sleeping. Her firm (alongside many others in the insurance sector) don’t believe they have the capabilities to provide home-working, citing issues around data protection and system access. I struggle to believe that, given the rate at which technology is moving – dial-up was only 20 years ago, after all. My slightly older colleagues remember the days of sending press releases by fax.

I’ve yet to work out whether the PR industry is ahead of the times or if insurance is behind. I suspect it’s a bit of both. And I single out insurance only because it’s a sector I’m familiar with. I’m sure there are plenty of others just as bad or worse at offering flexible working options.

But the benefits of flexible working are well documented and it’s high time more companies got on board. My commute to the office consists of a 25 minute walk to the station (we can’t drive there because it’s usually gridlocked), a 15 minute train ride, followed by two tube rides of roughly 15-20 minutes each (all standing room only). If all my connections work I’ll get to the office about 1 hour and 20 minutes after leaving my house. But when things have gone wrong I have been known to stagger (late) into the office and slump down at my desk; exhausted before my day has even begun. Funnily enough I do not, at that point, feel at my most productive.

And productivity aside, there are the associated cost savings and improvements to work/life balance and the reduction of stress and sick leave that comes with it. Really, it’s a no brainer.

Technology is advancing at such speed that we must surely assume that these sectors will catch up soon? I hope so, if only to spare my poor friend.