Transport minister Norman Baker MP has announced government backing for a new consortium called "Anywhere Working," which aims to help businesses adopt flexible working practices and cut back on travel.
The consortium - which includes Microsoft, Vodafone and Business in the Community, among others - will offer advice on travel alternatives, provide online training in technologies that enable flexible working, such as video conferencing and cloud document sharing, and allow organisations to participate in trials.
"Transport is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions," said Baker, speaking at the Worktech 2011 conference in London today. "Something's got to give. The situation is becoming unsustainable both environmentally and economically.
"Companies need to offer the flexibility for those who do not need to travel to work on daily basis," he added. "Anywhere Working will galvanise people to see reward where once they saw risk."
The government also intends to launch an Anywhere Working online portal in January, which will offer advice and case studies of companies that have drastically reduced their travel expenses and carbon footprints by adopting flexible working practices.
For example, legal firm Eversheds saved £1.3 million on travel costs and reduced carbon emissions by more than 10% between 2008/09 and 2009/10 by making increased use of mobile devices for flexible working. Webinars and teleconferences are also widely used throughout the firm.
Microsoft also offers all staff access to Microsoft Unified Communications (UC) technology, including laptops, headsets and webcams. Since this technology was first deployed, the company has saved $93 million in travel costs and 17,000 metric tons of CO2.
"Technology has an important role to play in facilitating seamless communication and collaboration across work boundaries and can significantly drive down the cost of doing business," said Gordon Frazer, UK managing director of Microsoft. "From increased productivity on the move, to chance collaboration opportunities, the ability to work anywhere is driving this transformation and delivering great results."
Microsoft believes its recently released Office 365 cloud offering will encourage not only large enterprises but also SMBs to start adopting flexible working practices. This will be particularly important during events such as the Olympics in London next year, and also when disruptive weather conditions hit - such as last year's snow.
Baker told Techworld that the government's commitment to providing 25Mbps broadband to 90 percent of the UK by 2015 would play an important role in the adoption of flexible working practices, and could also go some way to dealing with rural unemployment.