10 October, 2018 - 13:50 By Tony Quested

Remote working a must for clogged-up Cambridge

A chart showing all the accidents and gridlocked road arteries the length and breadth of the country this week resembled a relief map of the Himalayas. Red warning triangles rammed cheek to jowl – viewed in this office to a backdrop of wailing sirens and flashing blue lights from emergency services careering in all directions to clear the chaos.

Cambridge, as ever, was right in the thick of it. This is not a rant about the myopic planning of poorly co-ordinated roadworks by Highways England or of foreign lorries tailgating and terrorising cars in speed-restricted ribbons that pass for carriageways.

No point. No gain without pain, we will be told. Let’s build more tarmac for foreign lorries to monopolise. It will be all right on the night – somewhere in the haze of the distant future. 

More people will die; more cars will be written off. It’s the price you pay for progress, right? And that’s before they start bulldozing Cambridge for a Metro!

Actually, the point is this: why do companies continue to subject employees to driving so many miles to get to work and lose hours of productivity while they sit in often multi-mile tailbacks? And before you say cars aren’t the only means of getting to work think again.

There is only so far you can cycle to work; bus and rail services still aren’t that great or even that accessible to people in some areas so the car remains the best door to door option for millions of workers.

In terms of Cambridge, with its UK and Europe-leading science and technology cluster, globally scaling companies are having to recruit from further and further afield just to keep pace with demand for their services. “Sorry I’m late boss but I got a puncture in Wetherby and found I’d left the bike pump back home in Aberdeen!”

Take a bow two companies growing globally from Cambridge bases – RealVNC, the remote software specialist, and PwC – the accountancy and business advisory firm.

RealVNC has introduced a remote working strategy and even some of its engineers are now allowed to work away from the mothership, as well as finance, HR, sales and marketing staff. The company uses smart technology where close collaboration is necessary.

PwC is also opening up a new recruitment route to respond to the increasing demand from people to work flexibly and forgo traditional working patterns.
Its Flexible Talent Network has been created to give people the opportunity to work for the firm without being tied into a full-time contract and standard working hours. 

People can choose a working pattern that works for them – whether that’s shorter hours or only working for a few months a year. People will apply to PwC’s Flexible Talent Network based on the skills they have and the working pattern that best works for them, rather than for specific roles. PwC will then match people in the network with relevant projects.

Over 2,000 people registered for PwC’s Flexible Talent Network in the first two weeks.

So let’s have more of the same. Flexible working; home working; role sharing. In this age of advanced technology, staff do not have to be sitting somewhere an anally retentive boss can see them to do a decent job.
Strip the clocks off the walls and judge your people by their productivity. Let them work from home and use technology to stay in touch. 

Switching on rather than clocking in is always likely to prove smarter and more productive; from the boss’s perspective it’s a question of trust and having the foresight to let go of outmoded management mores. 

Surely that has to be preferable to hitting the iPhone every five minutes and asking your employee on the hands-free in their car: “Is the traffic at least moving yet?” while counting how many sales opportunities or prospective clients you might have lost.

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