Working from home….It’s a bit of a Marmite issue in my mind. Personally, I love the buzz and energy an office can provide, but I admit there are occasions when working from home and having some calm and less of a journey is a joyful thing.
Last week I was speaking with a candidate who had just obtained a role where he could work from home four days a week. He felt he had won the European Lottery. For me, his excitement was slightly misplaced. Sure, no commute and a better work life balance…but he lives with his parents! Someone else I spoke with had been working from home for a number of months. He has a young family, his wife returns to work from maternity leave shortly – that arrangement made sense to me. Yet he admits he did finds it hard to remain focused and productive.
No matter where you stand on the debate - what has become clear is that employees are demanding the opportunity to work from home and employers are moving with the trend. A recent survey by Totaljobs found that more than one in four workers would move jobs if they weren’t allowed to work from home. In fact, working from home was considered a more important benefit than learning and development, parental leave and travel allowances. Meantime 65% of employers said they offered some form of remote working to their staff.
The value of working from home does not seem set to diminish, and certainly not when last week it was National Working From Home Day; an initiative that promotes the trend.
There are certainly benefits to working from home and not just for an employee. Sure, employees are reporting they are less stressed having missed several hours commuting and more relaxed being able to wear anything they want. They are financially better off having saved on the cost of travel. They have a much better opportunity to build a successful work/life balance and finally they report being more productive and creative from their own homes.
For the employer it can reduce staff turnover and increase productivity. In a study by Stanford University; Ctrip (the largest Chinese travel agent) had a 50% staff turnover. Allowing staff to work four days a week from home halved the staff turnover, reduced the number of breaks and sick days taken and improved productivity by 17% (nearly a full day a week). In short, staff did not slack-off from their responsibilities, they actually worked harder and were happier.
One other benefit for employers is that an organisation without geographic boundaries opens up a wider talent pool to recruit from – they can in theory now hire workers from anywhere in the world.
But hold it – before everyone starts dropping their boss an e-mail with a proposal you never see each other again, it is worth remembering that working from home is not all rosy. Experts have warned that home working creates a host of new problems for workers that typically come at the expense of one’s mental health.
Those that work from home may face isolation, experience reduced levels of knowledge-sharing with colleagues. Working from home can blur family-work boundaries and lead to increased amounts of work during “non-work” hours and rather than leave you feeling more relaxed with your new work/life balance you find existing conflicts with family or work intensifies because you never leave it behind. The result is a drop in work productivity and an increase in stress levels – the reverse as to why many want to work from home in the first place!!!!!
When considering home working one has to be clear on what the actual goal is. For example, does an employer hope to reduce staff turnover or improve productivity? If and when you take the plunge it is imperative to clarify what the expectations are for your employees. An employer may not care whether a sale is made at 10am or 10pm….a sale is a sale and simply put - results are what count when working remotely.
I think most importantly an employer who has never done this but intends to try it has to see it as a journey with employees. Start slowly, maybe one day a month or a week. Brainstorm within teams about what are the best activities to do when working from home. Try and ensure staff are still communicating with each other albeit they are not face-to-face. Give some thought and consideration as to how you evaluate the success or failure of home working. Ensure technology is in place to help and not hinder staff and that managers are educated on how to manage staff remotely….it becomes very easy to start micromanaging the workforce you can not see but are still responsible for.
Finally, I think all parties have to honest about whether it really works for them. Personal characteristics, home situation and mental approach all contribute to the individual employee and whether this is for them. Take Ctrip – our Chinese travel agency – half of the staff that worked from home returned to the office after the study was completed because they felt ‘lonely’.
If anyone works from home regularly and wishes to share their thoughts I would love to hear from you.
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