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Flexible working technology is a priority

The arguments in favour of flexible and mobile working are many and compelling. In fact, it is fair to say it is now clearly understood that companies of all sizes, across almost all verticals, can reap potentially enormous efficiency and productivity benefits by equipping workers with devices such as laptops and mobile phones that can connect securely with corporate IT systems.

This technology is maturing fast, making mobile working even more attractive. The arrival and growing maturity of relatively new technologies such as cloud computing, which delivers applications and services over the internet, has added even greater momentum to the mobile bandwagon. In addition, innovations such as Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and relatively affordable 3G cellular networking have helped flexible working enter the corporate mainstream.

However, it is interesting to note that the latest driver pushing companies towards mobile working is not cutting-edge silicon-powered technology, but old-fashioned carbon.

The fact is the cost of carbon emissions from UK companies has been going up and will rise even more steeply in the near future.

In Whitehall, the new government’s environmental audit committee has called for measures that would guarantee a minimum price for carbon, such as a new carbon tax. It argues that the UK needs to increase the cost of carbon from current levels of €15 (£13) a tonne to a more credible level of around €100 or higher per tonne.

According to Tim Yeo, the committee’s chairman, current emissions trading measures designed to fight climate change are ineffective because the price of carbon is too low. He points out that the recession has seen carbon prices fall dramatically, leaving many enterprises with more carbon allowances than they need.

The European Commission is also discussing a pan-European Union minimum tax on carbon which would be levied on fuel, natural gas and coal.

Although the UK government currently opposes such direct carbon taxes, Liber al Democrat transport minister Norman Baker has advocated that staff should be encouraged to work from home. His vision appears to be far more wide ranging than the legislative measures currently in place, making it mandatory for UK companies to offer some degree of flexible working to certain employees, such as those with young children.

The coalition minister wants to use flexible working to reduce congestion on the nation’s roads and so cut the UK’s carbon emissions. And it would appear that the potential carbon savings are significant. A new report from Microsoft, The hybrid organisation, cites estimates submitted to the UK Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into reducing carbon emissions from transport, which put UK road usage at around 300 billion miles a year – of which 15 percent is attributable to business travel. The same estimates, according to the study, contend that 10 percent of such travel, equal to 16 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted, could be eliminated through greater use of conferencing (audio, web and video) technology alone.

According to Baker, incentives are now being considered to make it more attractive for companies to offer flexible working. He disclosed that the initiative is being discussed with Treasury ministers, sending out a strong signal that these inducements are likely to be financial.

It remains unclear if these measures will come in the form of carrots offering tax breaks for firms that increase flexible working or sticks in the form of levies for those that do not.

However, one thing is abundantly clear. The already compelling arguments in favour of flexible working are rapidly becoming overwhelming and the technology which underpins it should be high up on purchasing agendas.

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