Companies, employees and government bodies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of a good work-life balance. Two frequently raised suggestions to promote that balance are flexible working hours, and opportunities to work from home.

After all, modern technology lets us work and communicate from anywhere. So at the very least, why can't those with responsibilities like caring for children or elderly parents see to duties like doctors' appointments and picking kids up from school at the right time of day, then report back to the workplace and make up the hours by clocking off later?

It sounds good in theory. But there is a cost. Human resource departments involved in planning flexible arrangements have to consider the ramifications.

Wish you were here

When employees don't have to come in every day, employers lose out on the immediate availability of staff, and the benefits of team bonding. The camaraderie and strong morale that builds up among people working at close quarters, sharing meals, jokes and even complaints, is lost.

Efficiency can decline. It is far quicker to step over to someone's desk to show them something and ask a quick question about it than word an e-mail describing the matter and waiting for a response.

Co-workers seeking discussions with one another may be in at different times - and it's not easy to ring up someone for an important talk when she's busy helping her elderly father at the hospital.

Where are you?

There are always some staff who regularly abuse lunch breaks, toilet breaks and computer privileges. If they merrily do such things in the goldfish bowl of the office, what are these bad apples doing at home? Probably sleeping or shopping online on company time.

Organisations most likely have to tie flexi-work opportunities to responsible behaviour and good performance - only after proving their maturity over one or two years should employees have the option of applying for such schemes.

Stop calling me

Employees also pay a price - and it's not just the lower pay package that usually accompanies such arrangements.

Money aside, things initially look rosy with more family time and less commuting stress. But staff who rarely have to appear in the office find the distinction between personal and work time blurring so that they no longer know when to unwind.

Also, when supervisors see staff working hard and getting frazzled, or getting ready to go home, they wait for a better time to talk to them. But when an employee is just a voice at the end of the line, bosses don't wait for a better time. They just ring up for input whenever they need to.

Leave mummy alone

Even young children can learn not to call their parents at work too often, except in emergencies.

But at home, a small child won't understand why mummy cannot be disturbed when she's in the next room. And family members feel free to knock on the door any time to talk about their problems.

The employee cannot escape to the office because she no longer has an excuse to.

Solutions needed

Greater flexibility can - if applied right - result in happier staff willing to work harder and longer for the organisation.

Perhaps, to maximise the plus-points and minimise the drawbacks, employees who want more time at home can have part of each year (say, a three-month block), or two days a week to do so, but clock in the rest of the year/week. These days or blocks of time should be spread out among staff so there are always some team members around.

Whatever the solution, changes to the traditional work format should be implemented only after much thought and planning. This kind of flexibility isn't to be taken lightly.