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Why turn up to work?

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Travelling sardine-style on a packed train into Liverpool Street this morning – ironically, National Working from Home Day – I reflected on an interesting article in the newspaper. It reported that most city workers long to move to a more rural area and work from home, but refrained from doing so due to pressures they felt from their employers. I found this surprising because many employers, particularly large organisations, are driving the trend for new ways of working.

Employer incentives

working from homeIn recent years employers have caught on to the substantial advantages of flexible working (namely, having the option of working from home from time to time). In addition to the employee-focused advantages (such as staff motivation, autonomy and work-life balance) employers are also driven by potential cost savings. For organisations seeking to increase efficiency and profitability, encouraging – or even requiring – staff to work from home for part of their working week can benefit both the employee and employer.

The advantages from an employer’s perspective include:

  1. Substantial infrastructure cost savings – by requiring employees to spend some of their time working from home, employers can reduce office space, technology and other facilities by a similar proportion. BT, in particular, has reported that it saves £2.2 million a year through home working and flexible working.
  2. Employee well-being – in contrast to the traditional working day where employees frequently arrive at work flustered after an hour spent battling transport and other commuters, working from home a couple of days a week can provide welcome relief from the daily commute, dramatically reducing stress levels and providing employees with an extra couple of hours in the day.
  3. Improved employee satisfaction – allowing employees to mould their working patterns around their lives can lead to substantial improvements in employee motivation. In particular home working can help retain working parents who would otherwise struggle to juggle work with childcare or other caring responsibilities – in short, treating employees like adults.
  4. Increased productivity – home working has also been shown to lead to substantial increases in productivity as a result of lower noise levels and fewer distractions or interruptions. A recent YouGov survey found that the vast majority of respondents who had the option of working from home believed that they were more productive when working outside the office.
  5. Wider talent pool – by giving employees the option to work from home, employers are also able to benefit from a larger pool of talent when hiring. Allowing working from home is also likely to attract a more diverse range of candidates, including staff with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

Combatting the risks

Working from home, however, is not without its own risks and challenges. These risks can, however, be managed by suitable policies and education. Employers wishing to encourage home working or those responding to flexible working requests need to consider several elements to ensure that these working arrangements succeed:

  1. Implementing comprehensive IT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies – employers have significantly less oversight over how IT and devices will be used when employees work from home, leading to a greater risk of data security breaches. Employers therefore need to implement comprehensive IT and BYOD policies to manage this risk. When putting together such policies, consideration should be given to what security settings will be required, how confidential data will be stored, how it will be transmitted, and how it will be recovered if the employee leaves the organisation or a device is lost or stolen.
  2. Information security policies – home working also substantially increases the risk of loss or theft of confidential documents. Putting in place an effective information security policy which considers potential issues is therefore vital.
  3. Health and safety – employers have a duty of care to employees and should therefore ensure that their existing health and safety policy covers home working.

Implementing such policies is undoubtedly a step in the right direction in combatting these risks. However, the impact of these initiatives will be limited unless employees engage with them. Employers need to bring their policies to life, for example through creating online videos and interactive training sessions to encourage employee engagement.

Are there other downsides?

One of the biggest criticisms of home working is that it is harder to maintain a sense of team spirit when employees are no longer working in the same location. Even with all the technological advances, staff tend to be less collaborative and communicative when working from home, which may lead to some employees feeling isolated. As such, even the most technologically progressive organisations, for example Google and Yahoo, have publically stated that office working is a positive thing and should be strongly encouraged.

In reality, however, the majority of employees do a combination of office and home-based work. This approach allows employers and employees to reap the benefits of home working while limiting the downsides.

Where next?

One thing is clear, technology has disrupted the traditional working model, and has provided opportunities for both employers and employees. I think we all need to come to terms with the fact that flexible working is here to stay, and provided that employers address the risks associated with this style of working, this new flexible working model can be made to work from both the employer and employee perspective.

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