Microsoft Schweiz, La Mobilière, SwissPost, SBB, Swisscom, state-owned broadcaster SSR and Witzig The Home Office Company signed a “Work Smart' charter in Bern on Tuesday.
Through the agreement, the companies have pledged to support “flexible, location-independent forms of work” and to encourage other companies to follow suit.
The idea of having employees working from home or other locations away from where their company is based has been pioneered in Scandinavian countries by capitalizing on computer technology and use of the internet.
But it remains a novelty in Switzerland where rigid ideas of office work continue to hold sway.
But the Swiss companies say Work Smart offers a “win-win solution” by increasing the motivation and productivity of employees, while having a positive effect on CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions.
The new working models can integrate more groups of people into the labour market, which increases a company's recruitment potential, according to the Work Smart website.
They also encourage a more efficient use of resources and infrastructure, by relieving traffic congestion at peak periods.
Telecommuting can cut the flow of commuters by 13 percent, which is one of the reasons SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) signed on to the accord.
If 450,000 workers started working from home once a week, it would reduce weekly emissions by an estimated 1,400 tonnes of CO2, the Work Smart site says.
Flexible working conditions involve the use of technology but they also demand a change in culture, Swisscom director Urs Schaeppi is quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.
A study commissioned by Work Smart and conducted by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) showed that managers in Switzerland have to change their way of thinking to get the most out of the flexible model.
“They must understand that an employee absent from the workplace is not necessarily idle.”
Employers who no longer demand a physical presence in the office but clearly define their objectives are more attractive to prospective employees, the initiative's supporters say.
Telecommuting can also reduce the size of office space required by a company, with resultant cost savings.
But flexible work hours need to be managed with clear boundaries, with times when physical presence is still required and arrangements by which an employee can always be contacted, Work Smart says.
It advises managers to maintain informal — as well as formal — interactions through the use of chat software, which can allow for employees in different locations to communicate more efficiently than by emails, for example.
The group has published a guide for managers on how to optimize organization “centred on the skills of employees”.
And it is organizing a week — June 15th to 19th — to promote telecommuting and is planning to launch pilot projects.