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Guess Where Workers Have New Rights to Work from Home?

It's time for CEOs Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman to eat their words — or at least rethink their strong stances on workplace inflexibility at Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard, respectively.

Telecommuting took a giant leap forward today — at least in the United Kingdom.

Just 16 months after Mayer sent shockwaves down the spines of telecommuters everywhere with her mandate to Yahoo workers to get back to the office and just eight months after Whitman followed with a slightly less strident request, it appears workplace flexibility is making a comeback. And that includes the right to work from home.

Flexibility for the Asking

Starting today, every employee in the UK can ask to work flexibly if they have been in the job for more than six months. Flexible options include job sharing, flex-time, compressed hours, staggered hours and, of course, working from home.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said 20 million people now had the right to ask to work flexibly.

Until now, only caregivers, including those looking after children, had the right to request flexible working hours.

In a statement, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said, "Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs and choices of our modern families."

Paul Miller, CEO and founder at Digital Workplace Group in London, called it "big news for Britain, partly because it shows government support for new working patterns and also because it means new ways of working has now 'come of age.'" He added:

For years we have seen work shifting shape — home working, different hours, impact of technology — but today that comes together to enshrine in law the right for a worker to ask their employee for working hours or work place flexibility — and while the employer need not agree, they must give reasons if they refuse."

End of the 'Dark Ages'

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Although Miller said studies show 80 percent of employers already accommodate requests for workplace flexibility, he said the rate of change "will accelerate and the dark ages of 'workplace rigidity' will seem like a relic of the past."

"What is fascinating is how accepted at senior government levels it is, that giving people levels of control over how and where they work actually boosts productivity and wellbeing," he said. "This coming of age will mark the start of a new phase of evolution and transformation in work, so it becomes better designed for the digital not industrial age."

Miller predicts other countries will be quick to follow the lead of the UK — sending a blow to the likes of Mayer, Whitman and every other corporate executive who thinks productivity is linked to the ability to show up at the office. 

Of course, as we've explained before, telecommuting isn't the fantasy some people dream about. It's a disaster for anyone who is unmotivated, disorganized, thin-skinned or has fantasies about working in pajamas. As we noted in February:

Working from home is the best job ever … as long as you're willing to tether yourself to technology, produce twice as much as you would in an office, blur every possible work-life boundary and have the discipline to bite your tongue when someone asks you if you ever plan to get a 'real' job."

As one teleworker told us: "It doesn't matter whether I'm in a conventional office, my home or a hotel room — with technology I am always accessible. And, I'm more productive. The real problem is I work more hours being virtual. I'd like to say I took up exercise when I gave up my nearly 2-hour commute, but instead I just work more."

Still, it's nice to have a choice. Here's to the future of work, wherever it is you are working.

 
 
 
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