Oxford Brookes University is to offer all staff the chance to apply to work from home as part of a work-life balance project that puts it ahead of much of the sector.
The project - Jdescribed as an example of best practice by Joyce Hill, director of the Equality Challenge Unit - aims to enhance equal opportunities for employees and help the university recruit and keep the best staff in a competitive jobs market.
In addition to home-working, other areas of flexible working covered by the project include job shares, leave for study and career development and for voluntary public duty and support for parents. The university has produced a guide that outlines its policies.
"Work-life balance policies are well developed by companies in this region.
To retain staff, we have to match them," said Simonetta Manfredi, work-life balance project manager.
"There is a business case for such policies, a legal case as working parents with young children have a statutory right to request flexible working, not to mention an equal-opportunity case."
Ms Manfredi said the home-working scheme will begin formally next year. She said: "Obviously some jobs cannot be done at home, but if line managers feel there is a case, we will seek to accommodate people."
She added that the university had a long-term commitment to equal opportunities. "This (project) was partly governor-led as we had Joanna Foster, now director of the National Work-Life Forum, on the (board of) governors," she said.
Last year, the university surveyed staff about job flexibility. It found that nine out of ten employees said they worked better when they could balance their paid work and their home life; an equal number said that achieving this balance was a joint responsibility between employer and employee.
The survey, to which about a quarter of Oxford Brookes staff responded, found that manual staff were most likely to work part time, with 43 per cent on part-time contracts. Support staff were most likely to use flexitime (43 per cent). Academics and senior managers were most likely to work from home occasionally (62 per cent and 68 per cent respectively).
More than half (55 per cent) of all respondents said they would like more flexibility in work.
When those respondents were asked to justify the demand, 30 per cent said it was "to suit overall needs", 24 per cent wanted to cut travelling time, 18 per cent wanted to pursue a course of study or training, 17 per cent cited childcare responsibilities and 14 per cent wished "to pursue a major interest outside work".
"In most of these areas, Oxford Brookes is well ahead of the legislation," Ms Manfredi said.
'I can get far more done at home'
Andy Freeman-May, a programme lead on the paramedic emergency care programme at Oxford Brookes University, has been working from home for the past couple of years, and he finds the arrangement very productive.
"Obviously I lecture in the university and visit our partner organisations, but the rest of the work I do at home," he said. "I find I can get far more work done at home (than at the office) - possibly about twice the amount."
As his house is, like that of all home-workers at the university, his main place of work, it is subject to a visit from the health and safety officer.
"The university checks suitability," he said. "They have also provided me with a computer and a phone."
Karen Brockington, head of school support services, was involved in setting up the scheme for designated home-workers.
"We started to develop home-working in early 2000 mainly because of accommodation problems within the school," she said. "But we soon found that this working pattern could help staff to strike a better balance between their work and personal life, especially as we have a high proportion of staff in the school with caring responsibilities."
The university gains, too, she said. "It gives staff more space as most have shared offices on campus; it increases flexibility and improves productivity by cutting travelling time; it reduces pressure on car parking; and it can help staff with caring responsibility."
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