BT pulls plug on homeworkers - or does it?

After its recent £134m loss, flexible working pioneer BT is calling 200 homeworkers back to the office.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The move – which BT said was to allow it ‘better monitor’ staff progress - has already got union leaders’ antennae twitching at the prospect of more firms following suit, and winding in the tethers of freewheeling remote workers as the recession continues to bite.

If this does mark a systemic change of heart at BT, then it’s a pretty dramatic one. The firm has been right at the forefront of promoting the benefits of home and flexible working for well over a decade, and has issued many a crowing press release on the subject over the years, too. Indeed, it’s down to the support of companies like BT that the much-vaunted legislation allowing all employees the right to ask for flexible working was introduced. So the eyes of many ‘stakeholders’ from across industry and government will be watching developments with great interest.

But so far the signs from BT are that it is not. The 200 people affected – a tiny proportion of BT’s homeworking cohort - all work for the firm’s stricken Global Services IT consulting division, whose appalling financial performance caused the lion’s share of that £134m loss. Hardly surprising then that managers should want to keep a very watchful eye on exactly what it is they have all been doing.

And while ordering everyone to get back into the office may not seem like the most enlightened policy, at times of crisis and rapid change such as Global Services is undergoing now, it may well be more rather than less humane to draw everyone close to the corporate centre - communications lines are short when bosses and staff share the same space, and face-to-face communication can be maximised. Group motivation is also easier to address.

So, apart from the fact that a few people who might have become used to spending all day at home in their PJs are going to have to don office attire and get commuting once again, the impact of this move alone is likely to be modest.

But other companies take note – flexible working remains a useful, cheap and productive way of engendering staff loyalty. Don’t abandon it unless you really have to.

In today's bulletin:
Nationwide narked as protection scheme slashes profits
Facebook gets $200m with love from Russia
BT pulls plug on homeworkers - or does it?
A Steely attitude towards flexible working
Music tracks could be back as PRS back-tracks

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Is it favouritism to protect an employee no one likes?

The Dominic Cummings affair shows the dangers of double standards, but it’s also true that...

Masterclass: Communicating in a crisis

In this video, Moneypenny CEO Joanna Swash and Hill+Knowlton Strategies UK CEO Simon Whitehead discuss...

Remote working forever? No thanks

EKM's CEO Antony Chesworth has had no problems working from home, but he has no...

5 rules for work-at-home productivity

And how to focus when focusing feels impossible.

Scandal management lessons from Dominic Cummings

The PR industry offers its take on the PM’s svengali.

Why emails cause conflict

And what you can do about it.