With flexible working on the rise and more people eager to work at least some of the time at home, how can businesses make home working work for them? What are the benefits to business and how, practically, should you go about introducing it?
Today’s increasingly individualised world offers technology which helps people create unique environments to meet their personal communication and information needs. So, working from home can seem to be the ultimate in customising the way in which the employee/employer relationship can create value for both parties. For the employee the arrangement provides the perfect opportunity to remain employed and to be part of an established workforce, whilst, having control over their own work productivity, avoiding the strains of commuting and hopefully managing a better work/life balance.
There is plenty of research indicating that in comparison with employees who come into the office, at-home workers can be measurably happier, more productive and less likely to quit. There are also business savings to be made on office equipment, space and travel costs. Yet many managers remain unconvinced and are reluctant to introduce the practice. Where does this managerial resistance come from?
Part of the reason for the reluctance may be the apparent loss of managerial control when productivity cannot be witnessed at first hand. Implicit here is the suspicion that remote workers, particularly those who are less engaged with and committed to the business, might tend to slack if not continuously supervised. Then there might be complications of fairness, and equality - home working is not ideal for every job. The more straightforward the role, the easier it is to implement home working, whilst the quality of creative work and teamwork might actually be diminished if individuals do not physically get together in the office.
So how can nervous managers begin to reap the benefits, yet maintain standards and targets? Here are some tips; The first thing to do is to understand the difference between witnessing employee presence and employee productivity. We all know there are ways of ‘being here’ without ‘doing much’! There is no substitute for unambiguous goal setting, clarity of communications, and transparent performance metrics. If these are in place performance can be managed regardless of where the individual is sitting.
A good way to start introducing home working into a business might be to try some ‘natural experiments’. For example take advantage of threatened weather or transport disruptions that might prevent people from getting to the office— then actually measure how productive they are at home.
Another toe to dip into the water might be to begin by letting employees have one or two days a week at home. This might make different sectors of the workforce available to you, such as mothers with limited budget for the care of (older) children, or indeed anybody attracted by a more flexible work pattern. You could rotate days amongst your people so that some people are always available for face to face meetings and communications. You could always instigate some compulsory ‘in the office’ days to make sure nobody loses touch, and that everybody still feels connected to the team.
There is little doubt that home working can help business to recruit and retain talent, through meeting individual needs and enhancing job satisfaction. It can offer you a competitive advantage that may well be worth the managerial stretch and discipline needed to make it work.
Dr Patricia Hind, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School