Flexible Working - Good for Businesses and not an Excuse to Slack Off

16/07/2012 17:10 BST | Updated 15/09/2012 10:12 BST

The issue of flexible working continues to be a hot topic. First was the news that Whitehall staff are being asked to work at home over the summer to minimise disruption. Then came Boris Johnson's comment that home working is a "skiver's paradise" and "an excuse for general malingering".

Both stories reveal that there is still a lot of uncertainty about flexible working, and whether it actually benefits businesses and public sector organisations. There is still a strong sense that flexible or home working is an opportunity for staff to 'slack off', watch daytime TV or do the gardening, when they should be working.

In my experience the opposite is true and, in time, I think flexible working will become the norm across the public and private sectors in the UK.

You only have to look at the recent history of Vodafone to see what I mean. A few years ago, faced with intense competition in the UK we realised our traditional ways of working and doing business were too inflexible for this fast-moving market. A brave decision was made to do away with our outmoded 'command and control' structures, and we embraced a better way of working.

It wasn't a comfortable transition. It meant trusting that things were being done and willingness from everyone to work in a completely different way, but it worked.

The executive offices are gone, the dedicated desks are gone, and employees are able to work from wherever they need to. We also did away with 'presenteeism' in favour of increased workplace flexibility.

These changes have made us more nimble in more ways than one. For instance, it used to take us weeks to change a price plan. Now we do it in days. Contrary to some widely held beliefs, our work-rate and productivity have increased, not dropped.

It's high time that the UK business community stopped clinging to the old ways and got over the fear of the new, because in the long term we only stand to gain.

Especially with Generation 'Y' and 'Z' entering the workplace, there is growing evidence that flexible working is no longer just a 'nice to have' but rather a 'must have' for organisations - public and private - looking to attract and retain the best talent.