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Shirking from Home?

Posted on 23/10/2017 by Rob Hayter

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“Shirking from home” entered the Urban Dictionary way back in 2008, referencing the growing number of offices standing empty on Fridays. Over time this negative mentality has transformed; in 2012 Forbes magazine reported on a Chinese company who concluded that productivity was actually better from their home workers – they worked more hours due to no commute, took fewer breaks, and weren’t gossiping with passing time-stealers…

Growing numbers of people now work occasionally or completely from home, c4m in the UK, and although the pros and cons wax and wane, momentum is clearly with increasing flexibility. Some organisations contractually oblige their employees to work at home for some of the week to enable the leasing of smaller, cheaper offices and some have even abandoned offices entirely in favour of home-working.

The not-for-profit sector has slowly offered flexibility enabled by improvements in, and cheaper access to technology including cloud computing, secure database access, and video conferencing. Having run four Salary and Reward surveys this year across different job functions, I can confirm that the Working from Home benefit continues to be the most sought after and that whilst more organisations offer it, there is some way to go to satisfy staff wishes.

Previously ad hoc arrangements have morphed over the years to become formal benefits with accompanying policies (22 pages long in the NHS). Remember you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your staff when they are engaged in work, wherever they are based. Employees should complete a risk assessment and provide a photo of their home work space for your records. Areas to ensure your policy includes for example are:

  • Data Security;
  • Network Security;
  • Health and Safety;
  • and Email usage.

Many organisations who work internationally or have regional hubs have managed remotely for years, dealing with technological, time, and cultural differences, but the occasional day here and there is more challenging. There are problems with employees not being prepared for a day at home. They might live in a weak mobile coverage area, have slow internet, be unable to forward calls from their office phone for example, and there may well be dependents at home:

BBC interview example here

Then there is the concern of office and organisational culture eroding due to less interaction between staff. In 2013 Yahoo! banned working from home saying they needed “to be one Yahoo!, and that starts by being physically together”. More recently, articles have suggested that regular home working can be a danger to health, one concluding with the sage advice, “get dressed at least twice a week”.

Whilst many employees state that they can get more done at home without day-to-day office distractions, many others will stay at home to receive a delivery, meet a friend (within their lunch hour of course), pick up a parcel etc. How often do the above activities over-run or lead to another “quick” task? We have overheard sector employees say they were due to work from home but had come in instead as they didn’t work as hard at home, and another comment that they expected only about 60-70% productivity from people at home versus in the office. One HR Director told me of a Skype meeting where a participant turned out to be in bed. They were caught out by the noise of their off-screen partner snoring.

Clearly, setting rules and managing expectations is essential to ensure there are clear parameters and achievable objectives for the day at home. Performance management strategies and online software to facilitate measurement exist. Tracking activity is key, and as a quick wander to their desk is not possible, phoning occasionally is important. Planning contingencies in case technology falls over is also sensible. Finally, as with everything, impact needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains a benefit, both to the employee and the organisation.

A study by the LSE last year concluded that the benefits of homeworking can reduce over time. What is seen initially as a personal benefit that in turn rewards the employer dwindles to be seen as an entitlement with accompanying inherent risks to morale and performance.

What is clear from our experience is that offering "working from home" helps to cement job offers. We have also experienced offers of employment being rejected due to inflexibility regarding this benefit – it really is a bargaining tool. At TPP we have years of experience managing occasional working from home and regularly share this and our market knowledge with our networks. Don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of use - 020 7198 6000, and please do comment below with your experience and thoughts.