Mobile and Remote Working
1. This section describes the main issues related to mobile and remote working, and
demonstrates how public sector organisations can benefit from introducing
home-based working, and from using mobile devices and technology to help
2. The majority of UK citizens now own a mobile phone, and recent technological
developments have led to a huge increase in their power and a reduction in their
price. Mobile phones now benefit from significantly increased functionality. Users
can surf the internet, check and send emails, access networked information,
listen to music, watch videos or take photographs through handheld devices. At
the same time, the connectivity infrastructure upon which they depend has
begun to provide the amount of capacity required to transmit large amounts of
mobile data. This infrastructure is made up of mobile phone masts, General
Packet Radio Systems (GPRS), Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) and third generation
3. Private sector companies have sought to benefit from this by using the
technology to sell services (a practice that has become known as ‘m-commerce’)
and by taking advantage of it to change working practices. In the same way the
public sector can use mobile devices can reap benefits for their organisations
through mobile and flexible working. The Cabinet Office’s Transformational
Government strategy makes specific mention of the fact that the public sector
should make more use of mobile devices to improve service delivery.
4. In addition, the nature of ‘work’ for many people has changed over the past few
years – more emphasis is now placed on the tasks they carry out, rather than
the location in which they perform them. This has meant that managers are
more likely to recognise that staff may not do less work out of the office: indeed,
promoting home working could result in improved performance.
5. For the public sector, mobile devices that allow staff to work away from ‘the
office’, while maintaining connectivity with colleagues and access to relevant
information, can result in significant benefits. This reduces duplication, can save
on office costs and should deliver a better service for the customer.
Outline of section
6. Many public sector organisations have begun to communicate with their citizens
via mobile devices, to remind them of a hospital appointment, give them
information about local environmental issues, keep them updated about local
events and activities or inform them that their housing benefit has been paid.
However, this section concentrates on how and why mobile devices can reap
internal process improvements, rather than issues of delivering services to
customers. Furthermore, it focuses on the concepts behind and potential benefits
of mobile and remote working, rather than explaining the relevant technologies
in great detail.
7. It covers the three main groups of staff that can be helped by the use of mobile
and other technology. They are:
employees who are based at home;
employees who work from home occasionally;
employees who work remotely or ‘in the field’.
8. The first part of this section (Home Working) covers the first two groups,
whereas the second part (Mobile Working) discusses issues associated with the
third group. The final section looks at the human resources implications of mobile
and remote working.
9. In the past few years, the number of people in the UK who work at home for
some or all of the time has increased rapidly. A 2005 study by the Office for
National Statistics found that around 3.1 million people in the UK worked mainly
in their own home, or used their home as a base, compared to 2.3 million eight
10. In part, this has come as a response to employees seeking to balance their work
and family lives and an increase in the number of self-employed people.
However, it would not have been possible without the recent developments in
technology that allow staff to remain in contact with colleagues and clients,
regardless of their location. Indeed, 2.4 million of these home workers used a
telephone and computer to carry out their work.
11. Although private companies began the trend, local authorities have been quick to
see its potential benefits and offer their own staff the opportunity to work away
from the office. When introducing such initiatives, they have been wise to treat
home working projects in a similar way to other new ideas, by setting up a pilot
to assess the benefits (for both employee and employer), before rolling out if
12. Home working is often popular with staff, for a number of reasons:
increased freedom and flexibility of working hours;
working in an environment of their choosing;
reduced or eliminated commuting;
lower home insurance premiums;
improved ability to concentrate.
13. These factors often give the impression that home working will only benefit
employees, and projects tend to be the result of staff pressure. However, there
are many reasons why home working might also be attractive to employers,
some of which might not be immediately apparent:
improved staff productivity;
a more flexible organisation that can provide services outside of ‘normal’
improved recruitment and retention;
staff may be happier;
reduced sickness absence;
better relations with staff, as a result of trusting them to work alone;
more efficient use of existing property assets;
environmental benefit of reduced car usage;
ability to employ more disabled people, who might otherwise have difficulty
getting to the office regularly;
benefit to local communities where staff live (see the EU’s SUSTEL study for
14. Any decision to introduce home working should have the support of both the
employer and those employees that are affected, since it may involve a change
in the terms of their contracts. In spite of the apparent benefits, not everyone is
necessarily keen to work from home, for a number of reasons:
there will be fewer networking and social opportunities;
many people value the distinction between their job and home that arises
from working in the office;
the employee may not have ‘their’ desk in the office, and may have to work
in a cramped environment if accommodation is rationalised;
using the home as a workplace could change an employee’s tax status.
15. Persuading employers of the benefits of home working has proved more difficult.
The main reasons for this are as follows.
The employer will need to measure outcomes (the resulting service
delivery) and outputs (work produced) as opposed to inputs (time spent
working). For many organisations this requires a significant change in the
Teleworking may be suitable for only a small number of staff.
Flexible professionals might want administrative and IT support staff to
work more flexible hours so that they receive the necessary support.
IT staff might have to travel relatively long distances to deal with software
or hardware problems in the individual’s home.
Corporate IT systems are not able to function 24/7 because of the need for
interfacing databases, down time and upgrades etc.
Communication and team-building may be affected if staff do not see each
Flexible workers do not pick up tacit knowledge about the organisation
(such as which person to speak to about a specific issue) as easily as their
colleagues in the office.
Staff who remain in the office may be jealous of workers who can ‘enjoy’
Equipment and software
16. Employees in any location must be given the equipment that is necessary to
carry out their job. This is also true for home workers – providing them with the
right tools prevents problems associated with ownership and responsibility from
arising. For example, if employees use their own equipment for work purposes
and require IT assistance, the employer may face a dilemma in agreeing to
provide that support, particularly if the problem was not a result of their working
activity. Of course, this situation might also be reversed – an employee could
encounter difficulties when using work equipment for personal use. The
organisation should decide on a corporate policy for dealing with this, and ensure
home workers are aware of the position.
17. Necessary equipment may include a telephone, computer with relevant software
(a laptop and docking station will provide more flexibility than a PC), printer,
photocopier, fax machine and internet access via broadband. The availability of
broadband, which provides faster, ‘always-on’, unmetered access to network files
and the internet without occupying a phone line, has made home working much
more feasible. If it is expected that the employee will work from home relatively
frequently, or may need access to large quantities of data, the employer should
invest in broadband for their use.
18. Finally, managers should be aware that corporate software licence agreements
do not extend to an individual’s own computer, in addition to their work machine.
This may dissuade some people from taking up teleworking, since it requires
them to use an additional (work) computer as well as their personal machine and
they may have space limitations at home. One solution to this problem is to
provide laptops, which take up less space and can be designated as a ‘secondary’
work computer (in addition to one they have in the office) under the terms of the
19. Staff opting to work away from the office take on additional responsibilities for
their equipment. They should ensure that the latest service updates are
downloaded, and back up files on the network drive or disks, in case of computer
crashes, theft or loss. Computers must be password-protected, and employees
should use screensavers if the machine is left unattended, particularly if the
computer contains confidential data.
20. They should also be reminded that corporate policies on internet and email abuse
apply as much in the home as the office. However, if a teleworker has been
provided with unmetered internet access the organisation incurs no extra charge
from them surfing the web for personal reasons. Consequently, many employers
are relaxed about home workers using their equipment for personal use,
provided they remain within the boundaries of corporate policies.
21. Nevertheless, home workers may not be accessing the internet through the
corporate firewall, and consequently their equipment could be more vulnerable
than computers in the office. Websites that are blocked by the server at
headquarters might be accessible from home, something that could be
problematic. Difficulties could also arise where, for example, a child protection
social worker might require access to sites that are wholly inappropriate for an
accountant working within the same department. In addition, if an employee
contracts a virus at home and then uses their laptop in the office, the corporate
network could be affected.
22. To minimise these risks, organisations should consider installing personal
firewalls for each remote worker, along with virtual private networks (VPNs). Link
to glossary. VPNs provide protected access through an internet connection and
are a useful way of ensuring that flexible staff can access networked information
securely while away from the main office. However, they are only effective from
a fixed location (such as the employee’s home), and therefore organisations
should ensure that other measures are in place to ensure mobile staff are
23. One way of avoid most of the above difficulties is to use remote access software
such as Citrix. The only software installed in the individual’s home is the client
software. The individual also has an access key generator that ensures the
security and integrity of the connection. All the other software and data remains
on the organisation’s servers. The user sees an image of the computer desktop
that is the same as they would see if they were directly logged on to the
organisation’s network. Access to downloading and uploading files can be
controlled. Issues around corporate firewalls and mobile devices can be solved.
24. Some software does not work well or at all over these types of remote
connections but most software suppliers are now updating their software to work
since so many customers are using these remote working tools.
25. Organisations that allow home working should set aside some office space for
‘hot-desks’. These allow remote staff to log on to the network through a spare PC
or, where the employee has a laptop, through a wireless LAN or network cable.
As a result, they can work with their own personal settings and access files that
were saved locally. In order to ensure that all home workers have the same right
to each desk, it is probably best to determine occupancy through a booking
system, via the intranet or an electronic calendar.
26. If managers are serious about wanting to reduce office space, they should
encourage staff to work away from headquarters as often as possible. While an
organisation is in the process of setting up home working, the ratio of remote
staff to hot desks can only be estimated. However, some private sector
organisations work on a basis of up to 7:1. Once the project is up and running,
occupancy of hot desks should be managed and monitored to ensure that they
are being used correctly, and that they are reduced in number if this is feasible.
27. Administrative support is required to ensure that home workers are supported
and messages etc. from the public are passed on to the home worker. Other
activities, such as change of passwords, building access etc also need to be
communicated to home workers. There can also be a knock-on effect for support
who may have to turn around information requests on a particular day, as that is
the only day when the home worker visits the office.
Teambuilding and support
28. Developing coherent teams from a group of dispersed individuals can be difficult.
Managers should ensure that they maintain communication with remote staff, by
telephone, email and in team meetings. Telephone conferences can be a good
(and cheap) way of dealing with issues, and some private companies have
invested in video conferencing to facilitate dialogue between staff in different
29. When used correctly, the ‘out of office’ function in email programs, along with
voicemail messages, can be extremely helpful to customers and colleagues. If
team members share their calendars electronically, colleagues will know where
they are based on any particular day. However, as mobile phones become more
advanced, staff are able to access relevant information and contact others
regardless of location and it may be that these functions become less important
in the future.
30. Corporate intranets are a good way for remote staff to remain connected to the
organisation, keeping them informed of developments and providing an easy way
of accessing information. Some organisations may want to set aside a section of
their intranet to facilitate online discussions in real time – this can be password-
protected if the topic is confidential. Other technologies, such as instant
messaging (text, voice and picture) can also help with communication.
31. More traditionally, face-to-face meetings are still probably the best way to
promote team working and good relationships between colleagues. However,
these assume much greater importance when they involve home workers.
Opportunities for home workers to come and meet their colleagues help them to
keep a feeling of connection with the organisation.
32. It is vital to make them productive and relevant to all of those present, otherwise
some may feel that their attendance was unnecessary. Team members might live
a long way from any meeting place and could become resentful if the issues
under discussion did not need their input or could be resolved by telephone or
email. Consequently, managers should not feel that they must hold a team
meeting unless there is sufficient material on the agenda.
33. In addition to team meetings, employers should hold regular formal appraisals to
support, praise and encourage staff where appropriate. These should focus on
the extent to which mutual targets have been achieved, as outlined in part 3 of
this section. To ensure that staff feel valued, managers should also support them
in more informal ways, with a few words of encouragement or congratulations by
email or over the phone.
34. The costs and benefits of home working can be difficult to assess. Costs can
occur over time or be one-off investments, and benefits normally only appear
later. It is also important to recognise that they are likely to fall unevenly on
departments or units (IT and line managers, for example), and this is likely to
mean that different stakeholders will have varying levels of enthusiasm for
35. In any assessment, it is important to ascertain whether the cost of allowing
someone to work from home will duplicate or replace the costs of keeping him or
her in the office. However, the following potential costs should be considered.
Although most of them do not amount to a great financial commitment, when
taken together they could be significant:
the one-off, direct cost of hardware and software (whether purchased, hired
or leased), followed by ongoing costs of maintenance, upgrades or
replacement where necessary;
additional printers and photocopiers (each home-based employee will
require one, rather than sharing them on the network);
communications media (telephone, broadband, video-conferencing, etc.);
cost of internet connection – connectivity to the home may be more
expensive than leased lines;
support and maintenance costs, whether provided in house or by a third
consumables, such as disks, CDs, toner cartridges, stationery and paper;
ancillary accessories, including computer furniture and cabling;
costs incurred by planning, management, implementation, development and
evaluation of the home working project;
ongoing support from the IT department;
training of home workers;
modifications to the home site to ensure that it complies with health and
modifications to the main office site, such as installing hot desks and extra
paying for meetings and possible staff accommodation in external premises
transition to the new system, including rewriting software, setting up files
and databases, converting existing data, or use of temporary staff during
the transition phase;
installation and delivery of equipment to the employee’s home;
insurance for loss or damage to the equipment;
business continuity guarantee and disaster recovery;
travel of employee to meetings from home;
payment of home workers’ heating and lighting bills – managers should
contact HR to identify the financial implications of this.
36. Major financial benefits of home working can result from reduced office costs.
The average office desk is unoccupied for up to 90% of the calendar year, yet is
paid for on a 24/7/365 basis and costs over £10,000 per annum. Consequently,
reducing the required office space by increasing staff to desk ratios can result in
Case study: London Borough of Hillingdon
37. Hillingdon analysed 520 jobs in its housing department and identified 300 that
were suitable for remote working (via telework and mobile work). With a
supporting hot desk ratio of one workspace to 3.5 employees, the department
calculated that it could sell off half of its office space.
38. These calculations helped to develop a business case that estimated a return on
investment within four years, with ongoing net savings of £0.45m from year five.
Hillingdon’s analysis was later verified by Cisco.
39. However, very few organisations are aware of how much money they spend on
property to begin with – some might not even know how many people work for
them. Managers should identify these figures before beginning any home working
project, to ensure a reliable benchmark against which occupancy costs can be
measured. Some private sector companies (such as BT) have saved millions of
pounds in recent years as a result of their home working policies.
40. Some types of work are particularly suited to flexible modes. For example, social
services, environmental health, highways or property staff often want to access
real-time information while they are ‘in the field’ rather than at a desk. For the
purposes of this section, they are termed ‘mobile’ rather than ‘home’ workers.
41. Since these employees are much less likely to require central office space, staff
to desk ratios for mobile workers are usually different when compared with their
home-based colleagues. If they can receive the necessary information
electronically on a hand-held device, they will not need to report centrally for
details of their next task and therefore should not require as much space in the
office. If they can input information directly into back-office databases while on
site via GPRS or third generation mobile networks, this would also reduce
42. Consequently, mobile working can result in significant savings in office, process
and transport costs, as well as the time spent between jobs. This makes the
business case for remote working relatively easy to build.
43. Most of the technology is already available to enable mobile working – the key is
to identify it, use it in the right way and manage the change properly. In
addition, standards will need to be developed on issues such as integrating
mobile devices with back office systems.
Mobile working in local authority departments
44. In a local authority context, the following areas are well placed to benefit from
45. In property services, staff responsible for building maintenance or repairs rarely
need to be in the office and would be able to work more efficiently if they
received real-time updates about jobs while in the field. Similarly, the ability to
input data about housing repairs directly into the back-office while on site should
remove unnecessary duplication and ensure that the service is delivered quicker.
Case study: Harlow Council
46. Following a critical Best Value review, Harlow improved the way in which its
housing repair service was delivered. Tenants with a problem now phone a
contact centre, from where the agent has access to each craftsperson’s diary and
can thus schedule appointments accordingly. The agent fills in a form on screen
according to how tenants describe the problem, and a workflow system then sets
processes in train by sending jobs to the relevant people – plumbers,
electricians, engineers, etc.
47. The craftspeople can then access their job information from the central database
in real time using PDAs. This also means that they do not need to report to any
office before visiting a property and can fit in extra jobs during the working day.
48. The new approach ensures a better and more efficient service to the tenants
(91% of problems are dealt with at the first visit to the property, compared to
60% beforehand). In addition, the system provides council managers with
valuable information about how jobs are progressing, how much they will cost
and how long they may take.
49. A similar approach could be taken in environmental health or trading standards,
both of which require staff to travel to various sites and collect data in the field.
Many unitary and county councils have begun to provide social workers with
mobile devices to help them with client assessments.
Case study: Cambridgeshire County Council
50. Cambridgeshire issued tablet PCs to its social services staff, who now enter
information straight into the system while assessing and meeting with clients.
This has had a number of hard and soft benefits:
carers can identify any existing problems the client may have much quicker;
carers do not need to report into the office at the start of the day as they
can access information remotely;
difficulties with reading handwriting are overcome;
tablets do not form as big a barrier as laptops between staff and clients and
can thus help to develop trust;
the council is expecting to reap annual savings of around £5m from the
initiative, as a result of reduced duplication and office occupancy.
51. Benefits staff could also be equipped with mobile devices, enabling them to make
assessments in clients’ homes and help them through applications. If officers
meet claimants face-to-face in this way, it could also deter fraudulent
Case study: Halton BC and ‘Benefits Express’
52. Benefits claimants at Halton were having difficulty filling in their application
forms, which led to frustration and delays in the payment of council tax rebate.
Halton decided that if its staff went into people's homes they would be able to
explain things better and get the correct answers first time. As a result, 'Benefits
Express', essentially an office on a bus that provides access to benefits
information and systems, was born.
53. The bus travels around estates, informing those people who need to renew their
benefit applications of what they need to do, before processing their claims. This
is normally done in the applicants' homes, using GPRS to access the benefits’
back-office systems, with the result that queries are answered and claims
updated and processed in real time. Staff also capture images (of signatures for
example) with digital cameras, which can then be put on to the council's
document imaging system.
54. Not only do claimants find out immediately whether they qualify for benefits, but
it also saves data duplication and paper chasing in the office, thus helping to
improve staff morale. Claims are now processed in a month rather than 50 days,
as was the case previously.
55. Once word about the bus got around, demand for benefits services mushroomed
and claimants began to ask questions about other related issues. Consequently,
Halton has introduced other services through the bus to create a mobile one-stop
Mobile working in healthcare
56. New technology provides the possibility that non-urgent healthcare could be
carried out without the patient needing to attend hospital. This could have a
particularly beneficial impact in rural areas.
Case study: Telemedicine in Cornwall
57. Despite having a population of nearly half a million, Cornwall has no towns with
more than 20,000 inhabitants, and only one hospital. However, the county has
12 minor injury units (MIUs), which are staffed primarily by nurses.
58. The nurses are trained in IT, injury assessment and treatment skills, and can
also supply some medication. When a patient enters the unit, the nurses film
their symptoms and the pictures are streamed over an internal network that
links the various MIUs with an A&E specialist in Truro and radiologists in Truro
and Plymouth. Based on the pictures, these experts provide assessments and
diagnosis and either recommend that the patient travel to hospital or advise the
nurse to pursue a particular course of minor treatment.
59. The potential of mobile devices to improve patient care in hospital is huge. If
doctors are able to call up electronic care records on PDAs or tablet PCs while at
a patient’s bed, they may be able identify additional reasons for their illness. The
ability to input data straight into their record will also reduce the potential for
error, as well as cut out duplication. Some hospital trusts have begun to install
wireless networks into wards or surgery departments, giving clinicians who move
around access to real-time information about patients' conditions.
60. After serious incidents, valuable time is often taken up assessing the extent of
injuries once a patient arrives at hospital. If hospital staff had a better indication
of their injuries, patients could be treated immediately on arrival – or by
paramedics on the way to hospital.
Case study: Fife Fire and Rescue Service
61. Fife Fire and Rescue Service uses photo messaging at the scene of accidents to
take photographs of casualties. It then sends these images to the Accident and
Emergency (A&E) Unit at Dunfermline's Queen Margaret Hospital, which receives
them in real time.
62. This allows resident consultants at the hospital to examine the pictures and
assess the extent of injuries and mobilise the appropriate medical teams before
the patient arrives. Consultants can also decide whether it is more valuable for
them to wait for the patient to get to hospital or whether they should travel to
the scene to assist.
New ways of working
63. Some organisations that have adopted mobile working have encountered
problems trying to integrate the technology with existing systems. The most
successful projects have been combined with business process re-engineering
and newer technology that is designed to complement remote working. However,
integrating new ways of working into the organisation can be very difficult: the
section on Human Resources Issues provides some guidance on how to manage
64. The Transformational Government strategy sets out the case for delivering public
services through mobile channels, as part of its aim to design services around
the needs of the customer. As well as having benefits for government, this can
also make it easier for citizens to access services. However, mobile working also
has the potential to transform the way in which public sector organisations
65. Examples of how mobile technology could change particular jobs are outlined
During client assessments, social workers could gather information that
could be relevant for other departments, such as benefits or housing. This
could be added into council systems while on site.
Refuse collectors could take note of abandoned cars or streetlights that are
not working. If these are reported on site, the technology could alert
relevant departments to their exact location.
Traffic wardens could inform colleagues in highway maintenance of road
Benefits staff could determine whether their clients are entitled to other
services while on site.
66. The potential is there for remote staff to define new and more varied roles with
public sector organisations. The development of an ‘urban ranger’, who deals
with a variety of issues and is supported in the field by mobile technology that
allows him or her to access corporate and departmental systems on the move,
may not be far away.
67. Technological developments are likely to make mobile working an even more
attractive option in the future. There are now thousands of WiFi ‘hotspots’ in the
UK – areas of approximately 30m radius that allow people to access the internet
and corporate networks via radio waves, and thus without cables. They are
mostly in airports, hotels, conference halls, cafes, meeting rooms, railway
stations, trains, service stations and other public locations. Where hotspots are
not available, staff can normally access email through General Packet Radio
Systems (GPRS) technology, and mobile devices such as BlackBerries allow them
to respond by text or voice.
68. Public wireless networks can have knock on benefits for local businesses and
communities, particularly in areas where broadband access is limited. The
potential exists for local authorities to invest in them jointly with local companies
that are also interested in the technology – or alternatively charge them for the
use of corporate connectivity
69. A number of local authorities are installing WiMax networks in their areas. WiMax
works over a wider area than WiFi. Areas where WiMax is currently installed and
active are Manchester, Milton Keynes and Warwick. The primary purpose of these
networks is to give remote access to Council staff. However, spare capacity can
be sold to consumers. This is of particular interest in Milton Keynes as many of
the telephone lines in the area use aluminium which is not an effective carrier of
70. In addition, telecoms companies have begun to promote ‘guest’ WiFi, which
enables visitors to university campuses, offices, warehouses or building sites to
access their own email, orders, brochures, network etc from another
organisation’s building. This allows people with unstructured, flexible work
patterns to access files, email and the internet from outside the office.
71. Increasingly, wireless networks are being installed in office buildings, removing
the need for excessive cables when staff log on to the network. This would be
particularly beneficial for employees who are only in the office occasionally, or
may be moving around within the building. ‘Hot offices’ allow for even greater
flexibility than hot desks.
72. Future technological developments should also be considered, and integrated into
a mobile strategy where relevant. Photo messaging (MMS) has become
widespread in recent years and has the potential to improve service delivery. For
example, ‘urban rangers’ could send pictures to their colleagues to illustrate an
abandoned car, or building inspectors might inform repair staff of problems by
73. Third generation mobile networks (3G) are also being rolled out in many areas,
providing huge capacity for mobile data streaming. Most organisations have yet
to consider how they might utilise it, but its potential for urban authorities should
not be underestimated (connectivity will be slower to spread to rural areas).
74. Most of the security issues concerning viruses, passwords and acceptable use
policies that were raised in part one of this section also apply to mobile workers.
However, they assume even greater importance for staff that may be based in
any number of locations, since third party or open-air locations will probably be
less secure than an employee’s home.
75. For example, Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) cafés do not always have secure
connections – visitors do not necessarily need to log on with a password.
Consequently, work that involves sensitive or confidential information should not
be undertaken in hotspots, or indeed any location where other people might be
able to look over an employee’s shoulder.
76. In addition, employees who install and use wireless LANs at home for work
purposes also run security risks. Neighbours could access corporate networks if
the connection is not sufficiently secure, or alternatively ‘steal’ the bandwidth
provided by the LAN.
77. Moreover, legal and data protection risks are compounded when staff work from
different locations, because they may need to rely on data that is stored on
hardware that they carry around with them. Effective measures should be in
place to ensure that back-up disks and memory sticks (as well as laptops and
PDAs) are stored securely, particularly if they contain sensitive information.
78. The security of wireless devices is improving though, and provided sensitive data
is stored centrally and accessed through ‘thin client’ type solutions, the
confidentiality issue is reduced. In addition, a number of devices can be
destroyed or rendered useless remotely if they are lost or stolen.
NOMAD national project
79. Nomad is a centre of excellence for mobile and flexible working in local
government. Owned by Cambridgeshire County Council, with contributions from
many local authorities across the country, Nomad's aim is to analyse,
demonstrate and evaluate the potential benefits and savings that can be made
by introducing mobile and flexible working technology solutions. Nomad also
plays a role in promoting the solutions being implemented in local government
across the UK, developing detailed case studies and hosting events to spread the
word. Further details about the project are available via
Human Resources Issues
80. Any decision to introduce home-based or mobile working should involve all of the
relevant stakeholders, especially IT, facilities management, property and human
resources staff. Moving a member of staff to another working location might
mean a change in their contract, and it will almost certainly result in a different
relationship between employer and employee. In addition, many people work
from home occasionally on an ad hoc basis, but both employer and employee
should still agree on the reasons for and limitations to this arrangement.
81. Once an organisation has decided to adopt home-based or mobile working, they
should implement a policy or code of practice for the treatment of remote staff.
They should also be consistent when determining which roles do not have to be
office-based, to ensure that staff feel the policy is fair. A sample home working
policy is available in the appendix, but it should cover the following issues:
definition of home-based or mobile working;
eligibility and application procedure for home-based or mobile working;
health and safety implications;
implications for contractual terms and conditions (availability, annual leave,
methods of contact, flexi-time, salary etc);
procedures for monitoring remote employees;
provision of equipment and support for remote employees;
procedure to follow in the event of accidents;
procedure to follow if either the employer or employee wish to terminate
Recruitment and selection
82. Any organisation looking to recruit home-based or mobile workers should
determine whether candidates are suited to the job and would be comfortable
working away from the office. Any decision to be based elsewhere must be
mutual, and should take into account the candidate’s personal circumstances and
level of training. For example:
Do they have sufficient space at home to work there?
Does their family support the idea of home-based working?
Is their domestic life stable, or do they move house frequently?
Are they aware of the potential isolation associated with working away from
Do they have childcare arrangements (home working is not a substitute for
Are they sufficiently IT-literate?
83. Many organisations insist that new employees should be based in the office for
the first few months after starting work. This has the advantage that new staff
will get a better understanding of the organisational culture and gain valuable
tacit knowledge about how it works. However, others employ people to work
remotely from the beginning of their contracts. This approach ensures that
candidates are certain of the working conditions from the outset and can also
broaden the pool of potential applicants, since they do not need to live near the
office in order to do the job.
84. For managers, the biggest implication of home working is the reduced amount of
supervision and control they will have over their staff. However, control can still
be exercised in different ways, including:
workflow systems that identify when a task has been completed and make
processes more transparent.
85. Consequently, home working requires a more nuanced style of management than
ensuring employees are in the office during ‘working hours’. Instead of assessing
staff performance according to inputs (such as the time spent ‘at work’),
managers should judge them on their ‘outputs’.
Targets and measurement
86. In order to manage staff properly, we need to measure their performance. Once
sufficient relevant outputs and outcomes have been identified, they should be
translated into targets for each employee, against which they can be assessed.
87. Outputs and outcomes are different. An output is what comes out at the end of a
process. In project management terms, these are called deliverables. They are
usually very tangible and easily measured. Outcomes are about whether or not
the outcomes meet the customer’s expectations. Outcomes are more difficult to
measure and are often made up of a number of outputs and how well these
outputs are delivered. An organisation might have a number of processes that
are very good at delivering good quality outputs but if these outputs are not
what is needed or wanted, then the required outcome may not be achieved.
88. The Treasury Green Book has a chapter (which can be found here) which shows
the relationship between objectives, outcomes and outputs and how an outcome
can be turned into a target. Although this is designed for financial appraisals, the
principles could also be used to move from a service objective though outcomes
and outputs to an individual’s targets.
89. Setting targets should be a joint exercise involving the staff member and his or
her manager to help employees understand how they are contributing to
corporate objectives, and so ensure that they are realistic and achievable.
Targets should also be SMART:
90. Organisations introducing teleworking should identify the standard and level of
work attained by office-based staff, against which any changes in performance
can be measured once they begin to work from home. This requires a significant
amount of data collection prior to beginning the project – although an alternative
would be to compare the performance of home workers with those employees
that are still based in the office.
Case study: Bradford Council
91. Bradford Council piloted teleworking for a number of staff who processed benefit
applications. Since all employees process claims electronically, the authority was
able to compare the output of office-based staff and home workers using basic
quantitative data. It found that teleworkers processed an average of 25% more
claims per hour.
92. Source: EU SUSTEL project (www.sustel.org)
93. Determining relevant and reliable performance measures can be difficult,
depending on the job in question. Outputs that can be judged objectively in
‘units’ (such as those produced by the benefits staff at Bradford) offer obvious
advantages. However, they might need to be balanced by qualitative indicators,
which can be assessed in meetings, by email or over the phone, or by clients
through feedback mechanisms. Either way, all outputs should meet and fit with
corporate objectives, to ensure that the tasks undertaken contribute towards the
overall aims of the organisation.
94. Some private companies offer their staff incentives for meeting their targets,
such as piece rates, commission, ‘task and finish’ (whereby an employee works
until he or she has completed their designated tasks) or performance related
pay. However, money is not the only driver for most employees (particularly in
the public sector) and some staff might see this attitude as patronising – for
many, simple feedback and support may suffice.
Right to apply for flexible working
95. Under the terms of the Employment Act 2002, the parents of young children
have had the right to apply to work flexibly since April 2003. This fits with the
government’s desire to help people have a better work-life balance. In 2006 the
right was extended to cover workers who care for an older relative. The
government has announced that they plan on extending this right to all workers
with children under 16.
Support and maintenance
96. IT and administrative staff must be involved in any decision to implement remote
working, since it is likely to have a major impact on their jobs. Home-based or
mobile employees may start to ask for support ‘out of hours’, and might require
technicians to travel to their homes if they have a particularly serious IT
97. A few simple procedures can reduce the burden on support staff:
procuring technology that allows IT staff to take control of computers
remotely, reducing the need for laptops to be taken into the office or have a
technician come to the employee's home;
placing frequently asked questions or a quick troubleshooting guide on the
corporate intranet, providing a first point of call for remote staff in
difficulties (provided their problems do not extend to an inability to access
the intranet of course!);
providing administrative staff with a mobile phone that all remote workers
are able to call in an emergency.
98. There can be issues around staff wanting to use their own equipment. If work
software is installed on home computers, support issues will be complicated by
the range and variety of systems it will be installed on. However, if the
organisation insists on staff using corporate equipment, there may be problems if
the employee already has their own equipment.
99. There might also be licensing terms that restrict organisations as to where
software can be installed. The Microsoft Volume Licensing agreements (Corporate
Select and Enterprise agreements) have an option in them called Microsoft Work
at Home which allows licences to be bought for home use if there is a
corresponding licence on the work computer.
100. One solution is to use remote access software such as Citrix. This allows
corporate systems to be access on a home computer but in a controlled
environment with no software, apart from the access software itself, installed on
the home equipment.
101. Most organisations pay their home-based and mobile employees at the same rate
as they would receive in the office. However, employees in more expensive parts
of the country (such as central London) often receive additional ‘weighting’ to
counteract the high cost of living. If the individual’s registered place of work
(their home) no longer qualifies for this extra money, organisations may be
within their rights to withhold it.
102. Another issue arises if staff are paid by the hour, rather than a fixed salary. It
could be argued that they should be paid for the time spent travelling to a
meeting or work-related activity from their registered place of work.
Organisations should develop their own policies in this regard, and ensure they
are applied consistently.
Health and safety
103. Initially, employers should ensure that the chosen working location meets
necessary health and safety requirements by conducting an on-site assessment
to ensure the environment is suited to the job in question. Once this is complete,
the mobile or home-based employee is largely responsible for health and safety
in their working environment. Particular attention should be given to:
use of laptop computers. Health and safety requirements stipulate that they
should not be used for longer than five hours a day. If the employee is
expected to be at their desk for longer than this, they should be given a
docking station and TFT screen to fit with these regulations;
workplace assessments for safety of power supply and electrical equipment,
trailing cables, desk space, fire exits and any special physical requirements.
Following the initial assessment, employers only need to repeat the exercise
other recommendations, such as taking regular breaks from a screen, are
largely the employee’s responsibility.
104. Where staff work from home on an occasional basis, it may be too complicated
and expensive to ensure that the home working location meets all the necessary
health and safety requirements. However, Health and Safety legislation does not
provide definitive answers to where the boundary might lie relying on words such
as “reasonable”. Where working at home is genuinely occasional, e.g. only if
there is bad weather, then it might be acceptable to not have a full health and
safety assessment of the home working location. However, once work is done at
home on a regular basis, even if this infrequent, the health and safety
assessment should be done.
Remove obstacles to change
105. Managers should ensure that staff have the tools and skills for the jobs they do.
All staff should be given relevant training, but employees who are based outside
the office often require different skills. Additional training may be required in the
information technology – smaller public sector organisations are unlikely to
require (or be able to afford) ‘24/7’ helpdesk support. Remote workers will
want to solve as many IT difficulties themselves as possible, and they may
require additional ICT skills to do this;
health and safety, although the employer should make an initial assessment
of the workplace;
security – to understand how data should be made secure, by using
passwords and screensavers, for example;
acclimatisation and addressing issues of time management and avoiding
overwork. For example, having regular breaks away from the screen and
the importance of social interaction with work colleagues. New home
workers often feel the need to work harder than their office-based
colleagues, but this is unnecessary;
avoiding isolation – following the teambuilding ideas covered above can also
help to deal with this.
106. In addition, obstacles that could hinder the realisation of mobile working should
be removed, amended or otherwise alleviated. These may include inflexible job
specifications that prevent staff from exploiting the benefits of mobile technology
to the full, inappropriate or insufficient equipment or individual targets that do
not reflect the new working arrangement.
107. This section has shown how mobile technology can improve the way the public
sector is organised and delivers services to citizens. Among other things, mobile
government can result in efficiency savings, better service delivery and more
108. The knock-on effects of contented staff are improved recruitment and retention
rates, which can ultimately save thousands of pounds. By not limiting themselves
to employing people from a particular geographic area and giving employees the
chance to have a better balance between work and home life, organisations are
more likely to attract and keep personnel of the highest quality.
109. Above all, the greater flexibility provided by mobile technology means that
government can provide services as and when they are required. If staff can
access relevant information at the time and location of their choosing, this will
result in a significant improvement in customer satisfaction. The transformation
agenda seeks to redesign public services around the needs of the citizen. Mobile
technology can help to achieve this vision by providing services more flexibly,
‘out of hours’ and where they are required.
110. However, a number of hurdles need to be overcome before this vision is realised.
Some managers are sceptical about the benefits of mobile working, and many
jobs still need to be office-based. Most importantly, managing the change to the
new ways of working that mobile technology makes possible will be difficult. If
staff do not understand and support m-government projects (and the impact
they could have on their roles), they are unlikely to be successful.