"Home is where I work, and I work everywhere". Alfred Nobel
By: Steve Simmance
We can put a man or woman on the moon. We can track every movement and step they take when working remotely. We can communicate with them, using the latest technology to stay in touch. We've trained them to be their very best at work, and to know what their responsibilities are, even whilst hundreds of thousands of miles away. We've employed them to do a great job, wherever they are in the universe, because we trust them, and they trust us.
So why then, in the corporate world on earth, is working from home, such a mute subject? Is it because despite trusting our employees to be brand ambassadors for our companies, pitch for business using the right tone, facts and figures, use their intellect and common sense to make business decisions, etc. etc. We don't quite trust them to actually work when they are at home? Because unless we can see them physically sitting at an office desk, in our very own building, they cannot be trusted to be working?
Interestingly, whilst working from home for one or two days per week or fortnight, does not represent a 'hard' benefit, like say a pension or medical insurance, many employees now perceive it as an equally attractive 'soft' benefit; having the trust and respect of their employer by being allowed to work from home occasionally. Doing away with the daily commute to and from work, whilst carrying out those tasks that can be done anywhere with modern technology to hand; home or office. Moreover, home working can hugely benefit performance in achieving the parts of the job that require thoughtful and mindful reflection, concentration and quiet time.
However, when the subject of homeworking is raised either by Individuals to Employers, or during Working Policies Reviews with Board members and HR groups, it is the subject of much (often heated and emotional) debate, and regularly falls on deaf ears. And yet, if the policy makers were to allow free thinking, and explore how home working could benefit the organisation, there might be some appreciation of its value in modern ways of working and in empowering employees.
With today's overcrowded roads, railways and offices, the reality is that homeworking ranks amongst one of the highest motivators for job seekers. Time and time again I have seen how they analyse and weigh up their next employer by the benefits they offer; comparing the value of a homeworking policy for them as individuals, over, say private healthcare cover. Ironically home working doesn't cost the employer anything; healthcare, life assurance etc. do.
Yet the subject between employer and employee becomes quite strained, and almost resentful when the notion is put forward. The view is that cynically called 'pyjama working' or homeworking is not a conducive environment for productivity, that it is potentially divisive, that the employee would not work their official hours - instead favouring personal priorities - and that it is basically a way of defrauding the employer by 'skiving', and using paid time to not work. How can it be that employers trust their employees to be surrounded every day by highly confidential material and intellectual property, be that financial or marketing collateral, blueprint innovation, trade secrets et al, but by contrast, they aren't trusted to work in the confines of their home?
Being in the office the employee is perceived as being busy at their desk, whilst being highly productive. Yet a time and motion study would almost certainly demonstrate how much time is disturbed by the general hubbub of the office and therefore wasted. But it almost doesn't matter, because the employee teams are 'visible', irrelevant of their productivity. There are some exceptions, companies who don't have a policy as such, but an understood protocol; where staff can choose to occasionally work from home when they deem it necessary to get a task done. It becomes a matter of trust and integrity. However, if research could be done on the impact of homeworking, I would bet my bottom dollar that employee and consequently business productivity would result in higher levels of performance and output in the long run.
To illustrate the contrasting events of office or home working days here are two possible scenarios:
The office-bound day:
After what has most likely been a commute of a least one hour, assuming no delays, train strikes and traffic congestion, staff arrive at 9 am as per their contract of employment, albeit a little stressed, and then probably focus on priority number one......... breakfast at their desk! Team members amble over and gather at each other's desks to discuss last night's episode of Broadchurch or The Missing, and the first distractions from the job at hand begin. Favours are asked, questions are raised, and deviations from the perfectly planned priorities of the day abound. Probably not even an hour into the office working routine and one's plan for the day is hijacked, whether by incessant, often unnecessary meetings, listening to that person who loves the sound of their own voice, or worse, by the numerous 'time terrorists' who simply want to natter about something that is completely irrelevant to your day, or life for that matter. Or, worst of all, that person who wants you to do parts or most of their job for them!
The meetings start, and it's supposedly a demonstration of the collaborative team working, and seeking inspiration from others whilst in the gatherings that matter. However, being in that office environment five days a week is actually a disadvantage, which after a while can become quite demoralising for the conscientious workers who simply want to get on, finding themselves wishing they could work away from all that distraction, by working from home occasionally.
By lunchtime, the priority list hasn't been touched. Hours have gone by and very little has got done. So, it's going to be a late one tonight, but that's okay because the traffic home is going to be terrible, and what's the point of sitting idle in the car for an hour plus journey home? And whilst the employee has achieved little, left stressed and frustrated, in the knowledge that they will probably have to catch up on their workload when they get home in their own time, at least they were 'seen' in the office and assumed to be working hard! That is one sure recipe for someone who will be looking for the next employer who offers the occasional home working.
By contrast, consider the homebound day:
Rise and shine earlier than normal for an exercise class or gym session, which can be fitted in, in place of the hour's commute; a great energising start to the day! A quick but decent breakfast, and at 9am the day is off to a great start. No distractions from others, simply catching up on email (which is entirely work-related), whilst the quietude of home allows for single-minded focus on work priorities and performing the tasks required of the job. The employee a super productive asset; inspired by the 'thinking time' and the self-discipline to perform at their best, and at the end of the day likely having achieved much more than they would have otherwise done at their office desks. The energy is high, motivation is strong, and they now actually look forward to being in the office to follow up, be with colleagues and share the fruits of their labour, after a highly productive previous day.
In summary, quite possibly less than eight 'official' working hours at the desk, but almost certainly a far higher octane of effectiveness, and especially use of time, achieving higher standards of quality work. No pre-and post-commuting stresses. Instead, a motivated employee, with a clear and focused mind, who feels trusted and responsible, and someone who looks forward to being in the office next time. What more can an employer ask for? And more importantly, why would anyone want to go and work for a business that doesn't allow home working occasionally when such a buzz is achieved in these conducive and frankly grown up conditions?