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BT Group plc, Commended 2014, The National Grid Best for Flexible Working Award

BT facilitates agile working and promotes it where it is appropriate for the needs of its customers, the business and its people. They equip employees to work flexibly in both time and place. Agile working is a major element in their transformational workplace strategy and is one of the things which make their business a great place to work. It says that being tied to a desk from 9 to 5 is anathema to its employees; it’s simply not a way of working that they would recognise as being either efficient or desirable. In a large business with dispersed teams and multiple locations, flexibility is a necessity. But it’s not just about effective business practice, as BT recognises. It’s also about ensuring that employees, whatever their needs, are able to find the right work–life fit they want at the same time as having a successful and fulfilling career with the company.

Teleconferencing and video-conferencing are not only more convenient for employees but also improves business efficiency. Evidence shows that at least 1,040,000 face-to-face meetings have been eliminated, each with a mean travel saving of 197 miles. At the same time, BT staff are making significantly more conference calls than five years ago, illustrating the adoption of smarter working practices. BT is able, crucially, to quantify the benefits to the company: it has cut accommodation needs by 48%, which has meant a significant reduction in both energy consumption and carbon emissions. Reducing physical office space has yielded global savings of £100 million per annum.

Flexible working is seen as a key part of retaining employees. Support is available to all employees who need flexible working, either as a short-term adjustment or a longer-term requirement. Having agility embedded in the culture means that people rarely need to make a formal request for flexible working, because potential issues are addressed at an early stage. Line managers and employees almost always agree a mutually beneficial arrangement. Allowing short-term flexible working helps retain talent in the business, and has a positive effect on longer-term productivity and employee engagement.

BT recognises that caring responsibilities can be a major barrier to retaining people. It may be childcare, elder care or other circumstances, but whatever the responsibility is, BT has developed a specific ‘Family and You’ portal to provide advice for employees and to guide them through the various options available to them. BT ascribes its success in helping over 97% of female employees to return to work after maternity leave to the flexible working options it provides. The savings to the business from reduced recruitment and training costs to lost revenue are calculated at £5m per year.

Caring is not the only reason why people at BT adopt more agile working patterns. The organisation has developed a number of additional tools to support employees as part of a mutually agreed career and/or life plan. BT says that many of their most valuable people are mature in years. Losing scarce skills and experience in a precipitant manner can be damaging to the business, and therefore it offers a range of flexible retirement options easing employees’ path into full retirement. These include: wind down (part-time or job-share); step down (moving to a lower grade); time out (phased sabbaticals); helping hands (secondments either full- or part-time) and ease down (a gradual reduction of hours or responsibilities).

Employees with disabilities at BT also have access to flexible working options, and the organisation focuses on ensuring that they are able to put in place working arrangements that allow them to carry out their jobs. Home working is particularly popular and is well supported through technology and BT’s own knowledge and expertise in remote working skills, which it has developed over a number of years. There are more than 6000 permanent home workers, with many more employees working remotely on a part-time basis. Commenting on BT’s ongoing commitment to flexible working, Paul Litchfield, Chief Medical Officer said “Agile working is central to BT’s philosophy of being a responsible and sustainable business leader. We believe that the power of communication can drive a better connected society to the benefit of businesses, our customers and the lives of all our people. Technology is a key enabler but delivering a material change in the way we work requires a shift in mindsets.