An increasingly popular employment arrangement is home working (or telecommuting as its becoming known). With shortages of office real estate and spiralling costs of commercial desk space, increased capability of technology to allow for virtual work interaction and other such factors, home working has many advantages to offer employers.
Last week we highlighted some of the factors an employer should be aware of before effecting a home working arrangement with staff. Three further considerations include:
Managing the home workers – employers will have to develop new ways to manage their staff. The traditional relationship between the two will change fundamentally. The occasional home visit by the manager, or office visit by the home worker, may be essential to build upon and maintain mutual understanding, empathy, respect and loyalty
Are they actually working? – many managers, particularly those new to managing home workers, are concerned that their staff will take every opportunity to avoid work and do something else. Additionally it is likely that managers will now only have work outputs to judge an employees performance. Fundamental to any relationship is trust and both parties should start expecting the best from the other. If there are concerns then consideration needs to be given to quality checks, and possibly to productivity checks; but if trust is lost it is very hard to regain.
Avoiding isolation of home workers – this isn't just about maintaining regular corporate communications, but refers to a broader level of emotional engagement. Staff will likely come to miss the informal chats and learning (and maybe even the gossip) that comes from working side by side with others. This can be offset with modern technology like Skype, email, and social media to facilitate "chat" opportunities. Staff however may also be working longer hours than ever before, because they cannot "escape" the working environment whilst their office is physically in their homes. This in turn may negatively impact a person's family and social life, further increasing the sense of isolation. Both parties must make a commitment for regular social events, and dedicated time for banter, debriefing and knowledge sharing; and keep track of time being worked for expected productivity results.
Despite the appeal of home working for many employers and their employees, it is interesting to note that telecommuting is not necessarily the arrangement of choice for some of the ‘new industries’. Only last year Yahoo banned staff from working at home citing “some of the best decisions and insights come from cafeteria discussions, hallway meetings and meeting new people” as the rationale behind their decision. When the Google CFO was asked how many people telecommute he said “as few as possible”! Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has also been quoted as saying "telecommuting is one of the dumber ideas I've ever heard".
Sir Richard Branson on the other hand believes a time will come when "people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed".
The reality is that telecommuting doesn’t suit every individual or every business and decisions have to be taken locally as circumstances dictate just as Yahoo and Google, or as Accenture and Cisco Systems have done.
If you are going to allow staff to work from home then it will require some effort on your part as an employer to make it a success, not least in learning how to manage in a different way. There are no doubts that there can be benefits to home working for individuals such as increased motivation, better engagement and greater effort, and benefits for employers in reduced accommodation costs, lower recruitment costs, and higher productivity.
Certainly without doubt, is that both parties need to trust each other, plan carefully for the workflow and communicate regularly both on a formal, and informal basis.