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Reducing the Demand for Travel: Mobile and Flexible Working Programmes

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6. Case Study: RBS Group

Introduction

6.1. Edinburgh is home to many of RBS Group's main offices, with the headquarters situated at Gogarburn and a number of other large sites located in the city centre and The Gyle. In addition to these offices, RBS Group has a network premises worldwide, including around 2,200 branches in the UK alone.

Case Study Methodology

6.2. In order to develop the case study, a series of interviews were held with senior managers working at RBS Group, largely based at the company headquarters in Edinburgh. The interviews were held with:

  • Environmental Sustainability Manager;
  • Energy Manager; and
  • Choice Programme Managers (the Choice Programme is the RBS Group's method of implementing flexible working globally across the Group and is coordinated across IT, HR and property).

6.3. Additional data was provided via a completed Travel and Emissions Data Sheet, as well as a results summary of a home working pilot which researched the impact of home‑working on energy usage relative to office based working.

Mobile and Flexible Working Activities

6.4. One of the main reasons why RBS Group chose to implement a flexible working programme was to generate substantial economic savings through a reduction in offices and other buildings. In addition to this, RBS strives to be an employer of choice and seeks to maximise staff retention. It was felt that systems to allow mobile and flexible working are becoming industry standard and therefore RBS requires them so as not to fall behind the rest of the marketplace and to ensure that they offer the working conditions expected by people working in the financial sector.

6.5. RBS Group offers a range of flexible working options, these include:

  • compressed hours;
  • working from home; and
  • working from offices closer to home, rather than your base office.

6.6. RBS Group uses both technology and flexible working to reduce business travel and to encourage staff to work at locations closer to their homes. The RBS Group headquarters at Gogarburn, Edinburgh has around 4000 desks. There are also other substantial offices throughout west Edinburgh. Combined, these west Edinburgh sites employ approximately 7,000 staff. To minimise travel, a drop-in hub has been set-up in Glasgow which has approximately 70 desks and 250 employees registered to use them, and various offices across Edinburgh city centre have between 15-30 hot desks each. These hubs and hot desks along with other flexible working arrangements, such as home working, allow people to choose whether they always need to travel to the larger offices or not. To help facilitate these arrangements RBS also have a travel plan in place, which includes measures such as operating a minibus between each of the Edinburgh sites every 20 minutes to reduce taxi use and a larger bus which operates between Gogarburn, The Gyle offices and the The Gyle Shopping Centre.

The Delivery of Mobile and Flexible Working

6.7. RBS managers identified several factors that they felt were significant in regards to the delivery of their flexible working initiatives. First of all a 'Virtual Client Service' was established. This technology allows staff to use any computer (tablet, laptop or desktop), either within an RBS office, at home, or elsewhere to remotely access all their work systems.

6.8. Advances in IT systems such as this allow staff to work when and where they want, and at times most suitable to them. Inability to access servers, software and internal systems is often cited as a barrier to mobile and flexible working, however increasingly more remote access services, including bespoke services, are becoming available.

6.9. Staff , however, are not issued with 'home-equipment' and are therefore required to have home broadband access as well as their own computer, laptop or tablet, in order to access these systems at home.

6.10. It is imperative that technology is in place from the inception of the flexible working programme and is reliable. The mobile and flexible working initiatives will not succeed if staff cannot trust the technology to provide them with the required access and at the same speed they would have if working traditionally. For RBS this was identified as an issue at the start, however more recently the systems are proving to be more and more reliable and as fast as working in the office.

6.11. Another key aspect in terms of delivery was the need to ensure that office space is utilised in the best way for the people and the services that are delivered there. For example, if lots of meetings are held, then lots of meeting rooms are required; if people are expected to hotdesk then it is imperative that lots of desks are provided and that staff can easily identify which are available.

6.12. The managers interviewed also stated that although many RBS staff may not be able to work remotely due to their specific job, there is nothing to stop any member of staff requesting an adjustment to their working hours for example, and it is therefore important that all staff are aware of all the types of flexible working that are available.

Take-up of Mobile and Flexible Working

6.13. Flexible working is an integral part of working at RBS and all jobs advertised promote that it is an option. For existing employees, they can apply for a flexible working pattern at any time in their work lifecycle, regardless of age, location, job role etc. In regards to uptake, in 2012 new flexible working arrangements were delivered to 6,000 staff across UK (approx. 90,000 staff in UK).

6.14. From anecdotal evidence, it was believed that many office-based staff, on average, work from home at least one day a week and teams encourage their staff to work from an alternative location one or two days a week to reduce travel and to improve work-life balance.

Impact of Mobile and Flexible Working

6.15. The implementation of flexible working at RBS has had a considerable impact. RBS has a substantial property portfolio and is constantly considering ways to rationalise this and use sites more efficiently. In Edinburgh for example, they have used flexible working to successfully relocate staff to other offices. This has released at least one building already, and a further two or three are earmarked to go soon.

6.16. Flexible working is not always the driving factor behind the office rationalisation programmes; the main driver being the downsizing of the bank. However, flexible working has helped to make the transition process much simpler for staff.

6.17. Where flexible working has been used to help facilitate office closures, significant energy reductions have been seen. However, the energy use in buildings is not correlated to the number of people within the buildings and reductions are therefore only seen when a building is able to completely close.

Cost Analysis

6.18. The direct cost-benefit of delivering flexible working and workplace flexibility to 6,000 RBS staff in 2012 was £4.5M in reduced property portfolio costs - annually. RBS are committed to the continued roll-out of the Choices Programme across all aspects of the business in order to continue efforts to reduce costs, increase profit back to shareholder strength, and to attract and retain the best staff.

Benefits/Drawbacks of Mobile and Flexible Working

Benefits

6.19. RBS have witnessed a significant number of benefits since they began to offer flexible working patterns and initiatives.

6.20. The Choice Programme team conduct an annual survey of all staff to gain their feedback on a number of issues, including flexible working. Across all blocks of questions asked, flexible workers have more favourable views on all categories by between 1-5%. A selection of these results are shown below:

  • flexible workers scored over 5% more favourably on views of efficiency and effectiveness;
  • 90% of full-time flexible workers believe they have enough freedom in their job to do what is necessary to provide good service to our customers, compared to 70% department average;
  • full-time flexible workers have the highest proportion of engaged employees, and the lowest number of disengaged employees;
  • 59% of full-time flexible workers said they are not considering leaving their division, 8% higher than department average;
  • 5% fewer flexible workers indicated they were stressed; and
  • 87% of full-time flexible workers say they are treated with respect regardless of their job, compared to 83% on a department average.

6.21. Other benefits highlighted by the interviewees included:

  • improved employee retention;
  • improved staff morale;
  • cost savings through property reduction and increased productivity;
  • objective led management, rather than presence management;
  • staff feel more trusted;
  • reduced travelling time/cost;
  • improved work-life balance; and
  • reduced commutes.

Drawbacks

6.22. No negative comments were made from an organisational perspective, however some drawbacks at management and staff levels were identified. These include:

  • increased paperwork/process (e.g. lone working forms, health and safety etc.);
  • staff need to have the required infrastructure at home (e.g. broadband, laptop etc.);
  • increased utility costs at home;
  • can be lonely for the staff member; and
  • some managers prefer a traditional approach of being able to see their team at work in front of them.

6.23. It was felt that some managers have a perception (based on assumptions) that flexible working is negative, however the experience at RBS has shown that when they are engaged by the Choices team, usually the negative perception is turned into a robust positive when they are given the facts.

Good Practice and Lessons Learned

6.24. The RBS managers felt that it was good practice to ensure that the technology is available, fast and right for the job. Many staff do not have work laptops for example, so technology is required that they can use easily with the equipment they have at home. In addition to the more traditional remote access systems, RBS have developed an app which allows staff to access systems from their tablet computer. This has proven to be very useful and is much easier to navigate on a tablet rather than accessing systems through the website.

6.25. A significant lesson that has been learned through this process is the significance of listening to staff and the need to engage and work across departments such as HR, technology and property. Without doing this, flexible working will not succeed. Without this, small changes will happen, but there will not be a robust change programme across the organisation.

The Future of Mobile and Flexible Working

6.26. The implementation of flexible working has been successful at RBS and is continuing to go from strength to strength, with plans in place to roll out the programme as far as possible.

Quantification of Carbon Impacts

6.27. The key data collected from this organisation were:

  • a homeworking pilot project PowerPoint slide;
  • a single response from the staff survey undertaken for the study; and
  • a partially completed survey-specific Travel and Emissions Monitoring Data Sheet.

6.28. Key quantitative results from these sources include:

  • RBS surveyed 71 staff in Property Services in Edinburgh and London who undertook home working;
  • emissions reductions of 36.2t CO2 per annum were estimated for RBS buildings as a result of the home working pilot (equivalent to 510kg CO2 per person per year);
  • for staff in London offices in the pilot, emissions savings from home working were estimated at 4.6kg CO2 per day plus 6.5kg CO2 specifically for commuting travel emissions[43];
  • for staff in Edinburgh offices in the pilot, emissions savings from home working were estimated at 11.2kg CO2 per day plus 13.1kg CO2 specifically for commute travel emissions[44];
  • the average daily transport emissions reduction per home worker calculated across the survey is 9.3kg CO2;
  • reductions in transport emissions are estimated to be on average over 3 times higher than the increase in domestic heating/energy emissions, though the factor is influenced by the office location and the level of car use within the commuting travel pattern;
  • 1,236,149,171kWh annual energy consumption in buildings is equivalent to 483,074t CO2 per annum. RBS has seen a 7.5% energy consumption decrease across the group, the reason for which was not specified in the feedback;
  • the Travel and Emissions Monitoring Data Sheet reported that RBS's total business travel emissions are currently estimated to be around 56.2 kilo-tonnes of CO2 per annum;
  • the data sheet also estimates RBS's total carbon emissions to be around 606 kilo-tonnes of CO2 per year;
  • the single RBS respondent who completed the MVA survey reported a 60% decrease in their work-related travel and a net change of 50% decrease in travel by car outside of work; and
  • he/she went on to suggest that their home energy bills have risen by about 10% as a result of working from home three out of five days per week, suggesting that each day of home-working created a 3.3% increase in domestic energy use.

6.29. From the available secondary information it can be determined that flexible working practices can be beneficial both to the environment and organisations that adopt them. RBS shared an extract of the results of a nine month pilot flexible working study with 71 office-based participants in London and Edinburgh. Between them they were estimated to save 36.2t CO2 per year (0.51t CO2 per person per year) although this figure appears to exclude the reduction in transport emissions from the reduced commuting.

6.30. Further daily emissions savings from avoiding commuting into work were estimated to be 6.5kg CO2 in London and 13.1kg CO2 in Edinburgh per home-working participant. When other variables were factored in, including domestic and office energy use and commuting, daily emissions savings were estimated at 4.6kg CO2 in London and 11.2kg CO2 in Edinburgh. A more detailed breakdown of the data, or access to the raw survey, would be needed to determine the influence of rebound effects on these figures and to explain why the figures quoted for travel emissions saving appear to be larger than the figures quoted for energy use and travel combined.

6.31. The summary highlights that, on average, transport emissions are over three times higher than those arising from the domestic work environment. Office locations and the accessibility of public transport appear to have a significant impact on the magnitude of the change in transport-related emissions.

6.32. The survey response, although limited, yielded some interesting data. Not commuting in to work, given the large diesel car used, saved 20kg CO2 per day (49 miles per day). The participant reported a 60% decrease in work-related car travel and a halving of car use outside of work. His/her home energy bills were around 10% higher, as a result of working 3 out of 5 days per week at home.

6.33. Data provided by RBS indicates that energy consumption in buildings across the group has fallen by around 7.5% although this is not necessarily related to the introduction of the flexible working arrangements. The data also suggests that annual business travel CO2 emissions have fallen due to competitive incentives such as cost-reducing challenges being introduced across the business. It can be inferred that in the right working environment and with the right team mind-set, similar results might be reached in addition to, or outwith, the adoption of flexible working practices.