The world of work is changing, and the growing trend of home working is a key element of this change. More employers are empowering their people to work where, when and how they choose, creating an agile working environment of maximum flexibility and minimum constraints.
Despite being one of the best established means of agile working, negative attitudes towards home working still exist.
Here’s our take on home working, and how we help clients to develop and implement effective strategies to optimise organisational performance, and enable their employees to do their best work.
Shaking off the ‘shirking from home’ tag
Unfortunately, a common perception of home working is that it is little more than an extra day off – ‘shirking from home’ is a common reference used by employees to describe their home working colleagues. There’s an underlying suspicion that home workers take it easy; that their day involves several breaks, a trip to the gym or shops, and plenty of daytime TV.
Whilst there will no doubt be some who flout the privilege of working from home, most do exactly the opposite. Many workers claim to be more productive when working from home. And a study from the University of Cardiff seems to back it up.
University study on home working
The University of Cardiff study found that while 69% of office-based workers said they put in more effort than required of their jobs, 73% of home workers said they did the same. Furthermore, home workers reported putting in more overtime (39%) than their office based counterparts (24%).
A different study, undertaken by CartridgePeople.com found that home workers take fewer sick days than office-based workers. The study also goes some way towards dispelling theories of isolation and loneliness, with 86% of home workers saying they ‘never’ feel lonely despite being separated from colleagues and spending hours in isolation.
How do some home workers feel?
Both studies mentioned earlier found that home workers have higher job satisfaction than their office based counterparts. But home working doesn’t always promote a ‘feel good’ factor.
One of the benefits of home working is a better work-life balance. The ability to cut out a long commute, or flex the working day around other commitments is clearly a good thing. But as the University of Cardiff study shows, home workers often clock up more hours than they would if they were working in an office.
Physical boundaries have their place
One of the reasons for this could be the lack of physical boundaries between work and life. Home workers may be inclined to mitigate the benefit of not commuting, by spending an extra half hour at their computers at the start and finish of the working day. Similarly, when lunch with colleagues isn’t an option, it’s all too easy to take a shorter break and get back to the computer within minutes of finishing a sandwich.
There may also be a feeling amongst some home workers that they are held to different, and higher, standards than those who work in the office. There is the added pressure to prove that working from home makes them more productive, often leading them to work longer hours than they would if they were in the office.
Is home working healthier?
We’ve already mentioned that home workers take less sick leave than their office-based counterparts, but there’s no evidence to suggest that this is because they’re healthier. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where home workers may feel pressured into carrying on working, even if they are genuinely ill, so they aren’t accused of taking liberties.
Empowering your home workers: top tips
Home working initiatives, along with other forms of agile working, should be of value to both employer and employee. It’s crucial that your home workers can work to the best of their ability.
Our consultants have worked with several clients to help them develop and implement effective home working strategies. Here are our top tips to help get it right for your business, and your employees.
Consult your employees – It’s essential to speak to those who will become your home workers. Find out whether they want to work from home: there’s nothing worse for an employee than having such a significant change forced on them. Focus groups are a good way of engaging your employees and identifying how you will overcome any barriers.
Create a working group – An effective home working strategy isn’t as simple as sending an email to all staff telling them they can come and go as they please. A working group made up of key stakeholders will help give you focus and define your strategy. Involving representatives from functions such as IT, HR, and health and safety, along with senior management and your prospective home workers, will help you cover all bases and determine what support your home workers will need.
Seek leadership buy-in – Getting senior figures in your organisation on board is vital. Present the case to your leadership team and clearly set out how home working can improve productivity, morale and ultimately, the bottom line.
Pilot your ideas first – When you’re ready to put your plans into action, start off by selecting a small group of workers or one business unit to pilot your initiative. This will help you iron out any teething problems and obtain valuable feedback. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s always better to roll out gradually and deal with issues on a smaller scale, than be inundated with problems across the board.
Never forget your home workers – Keeping in touch with them, particularly those who work from home frequently, will help them feel valued and part of the organisation. Plan team meetings and events around their days in the office, hold regular catch ups both in person and over the phone or Skype, and seek regular feedback on how they feel about working from home.