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Next week (commencing February 27th) it’s officially “Anywhere Working” week in the UK., Unveiled late last year in a flurry of excitement by Norman Baker MP  the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the aim of the program appears to be to promote and show the benefits of remote working to businesses and individuals.

After Baker’s announcement it appeared to be building up momentum nicely with the launch of a portal with a blog, success stories and the like. But since then it’s been rather underwhelming. First of all there’s very little information on the portal about what is actually happening next week.

The support from the UK government appears to be, at best, peripheral.  Baker did write a guest post on the Anywhere Working blog, where he refers to another government initiative, Operation StepChange, which aims to reduce transport during the Olympics by 50% to prevent potential traffic congestion. But so far this appears to be the extent of government involvement that is at least clearly visible. The Department of Transport is merely a ‘supporter’, although Transport for London is one of the official partners.

There are also clearly some commercial interests at play here. The initiative is promoted with a number of participating organizations including Microsoft, Regus, Vodafone and Nokia. Looking through the official portal for the scheme, there are a number of references to the benefits of Microsoft products. On the official Facebook page there are also some comments from individuals about the benefits of working digitally which both specifically mention how they are using Lync and SharePoint. Both of these people work for Microsoft.

With the Digital Workplace so important the lack of visible “oomph” with Anywhere Working week is disappointing.   One of the strong messages that we convey in “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work” is that the effects of this new way of working are going to be profound.  Being able to work digitally from anywhere is not only going to change how organizations operate; it has wider implications for society, for example how cities and towns are designed, how transport is used (which can affect the environment) and how our communications infrastructure needs to be built.

For all the positive benefits which flow from the Digital Workplace we believe the UK government should be championing remote working far more actively.   It reduces pressure on transport, is good for the environment and produces a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

Other countries seem to be more active. In his book, Paul Miller lists government support for the Digital Workplace as one of his key trends going forward, stating “Governments will lead the drive at policy level for a fundamental shift to digital working and mobility, with organizations struggling to match the pace of change.”

In the Netherlands for example, the official  “New Way of Working” week  is run by a coalition of different organizations with government support, and last year was officially launched with a tweet from a government minister.  There was high visibility and energy with people in pink bathrobes out on the streets.

In fact Dutch initiatives around “Het Nieuwe Werken” tend to be higher profile than most other countries. There are already high levels of business interest and subsequently it’s on the agenda for many companies.  The reasons for this are numerous but include the Netherland’s high level of connectivity, particular traffic problems and the relatively high number of women in senior management positions compared to other countries.

Meanwhile in the US President Obama has been active in legislating to promote telework, at least within government.  As part of the US Governments’ Telework Improvements Act of 2010, all federal agencies must include telework as part of their Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs).

The advantages of being able to work remotely were sharply put in focus with the freak snow storms which hit the US East Coat in early 2010. With commuting impossible for many federal employees, it was initially estimated that the overall potential loss in revenue for the taxpayer due to lost productivity was around $100m per day.  However with nearly a third of federal employees working from home during the crisis, the overall estimate was reduced to $70m with $30m saved from teleworking.  The US government was able to present this positively and it got some media attention.

Overall governments could be doing more to encourage the Digital Workplace.  It is possible that things may be may be things unveiled as next week’s UK initiative unfolds and also that the focus of activity is within participating companies. Of course “Anywhere Working” week is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it also feels like a missed opportunity. There are tremendous benefits, opportunities and changes arising from the Digital Workplace, and the UK government needs to draw attention to it accordingly.

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