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Is working from home bad for business?

roderick rennison

Working from home has been part of the employment structure in a number of firms for many years. For some people it is now a firmly established way of life. The impact can certainly be seen, at least where I commute into London. On Fridays, for example, the station car park is not as full as it is for the remaining days of the week and I can get a seat on the train.

However, in my work with firms, I have come to realise working from home policies are often ad hoc. They are not documented, nor are they applied consistently across the business.

More importantly, in some cases, little or no effort is made to measure productivity. So much so that working from home is often tantamount to additional holiday.

Seeing as that is far from the intention of such policies, it is important to determine whether working from home is really of benefit to the business and to take the right steps to monitor its use.

There are a number of golden rules to consider depending on whether working from home is to be part of an employee’s regular week or whether it is just to address short-term requirements stemming from the business or the employee.

Where working from home is to be part of an employee’s working week, the rules are as follows:

1: There should be a clear business case for working from home

2: The purpose/rationale should be clearly set out in writing

3: The person should be accessible via both email and phone throughout the day(s) in question unless otherwise agreed

4: Depending on the level of employee, it may be reasonable to ask to see outputs in the form of completed work/assignments

5: Unless it is necessary or desirable to write it into an employee’s contract as being permanent, it is something that should be capable of withdrawal at any time to suit the needs of the business.

Where there is a temporary need for the employee to work from home – for example, to deal with rail strikes – most of the same rules apply. In addition, there needs to be a clear process for sanction in advance by the employee’s line manager. The following points should be considered before any agreement is reached:

  • Is the line manager satisfied that the employee is capable of working independently, using their own initiative?
  • Is their home set up appropriately to enable them to work in a quiet area away from noise?
  • Will documents be capable of being stored securely?
  • How will contact with the office be maintained on the day(s) concerned?
  • How will the employee comply with health and safety regulations?
  • Should there be a process for them to come into the office to cover for sick colleagues?

There is a popular phrase used in many management effectiveness books: what gets measured gets done. When agreeing on working from home policies, it is important to set clear goals and objectives at the outset. Obtaining regular reports is equally crucial.

While it may be unpopular to do so, it is important to review the policy generally and the arrangements for individual employees in particular at agreed periodic intervals.

With this in mind, care is needed in drafting employee contracts and professional advice should be taken to ensure the legal aspects are appropriately dealt with.

The flexibility that working from home can bring is an important aspect to consider. It may even be an aid to recruitment for some roles. But businesses must be capable of effective control and monitoring if it is to work in their favour, as well as for employees.

Roderic Rennison is director of The Ideas Lab

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Comments

There are 11 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Hmmm – the above is somewhat McGregor Theory X. An alternate perspective might be to trust your people, provide them with tools and capabilities to communicate effectively and let them get on with things (assuming the nature of the role allows this)?

    And TBH with recruitment, home working is fast becoming differentiator to getting and keeping smart and intelligent people – as opposed to it being a privilege.

  2. Christine Brightwell 10th March 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I agree with Mark. And I would add that in many poorly designed work places finding a quiet place to work can be impossible, leading to much reduced productivity – and reduced intellectual quality of work. It rather depends if you have a grown up organisation which employs motivated adults.

  3. The author of this article, is rather backward looking and may I say, seems like an employer from the 1960’s.
    The business we all work in, that seems to be the majority of readers of this publication, work in an environment, that is results driven and within a great amount of trust.
    I treat employee’s with the respect they deserve and the motivation needed, to make a complete success of their careers.

  4. I am the MD of a financial advice firm which operates from 2 offices with 15 staff. I work from home around 4 days per week which is much more productive than going into the office on a 9 to 5 basis. I start work around 6am and am convinced that most days I will get more done by 10am than I would all day in the office. I save time re commute and chit chat in the office and am not distracted by phone calls and queries from the staff. I try to focus on having a couple of busy days per week with client meetings, then keeping on top of paperwork the remaining three days. One of our advisers started working from home 1/2 days a week focusing on paperwork and the increased production has been considerable. If you can work in this way you will save time and produce more business.

    • God forbid that as MD you have to lower yourself to take queires from your staff. I would imagine they are just as pleased that you dont come into the offie as you are of avoiding the meaningless chit chat that encourages a happy working environment.

      Glad I dont work for you.

  5. Interesting view of the workplace by RR – how about the employee works from home, you DON’T measure everything and thus the employee feels trusted and more engaged with the organisation. In the long term the organisation benefits from that increased level of motivation and the employee is more likely to pull out all the stops when necessary and is likely to leave! In an age where good people are hard to find, perhaps a grown up approach works better!?

  6. I have been working from home full-time for the last 8 years and agree with what everyone has commented – my productivity is greater, I can achieve more in a couple of hours than I could in a full day in an open plan office. I regularly start at 7am and often finish later than the agreed 5pm but not having the commute makes this possible.
    The article makes it sound as if we all treat working at home as some form of duvet-day. Yes, there are some people who would – but I think we can all recognise these people and you wouldn’t give them the option of home-working! The rest of us are responsible adults who take our jobs seriously and appreciate that not having to slog into the office every day is a privilege that we don’t want to lose by exploiting it

  7. Similar to Lee, I happen to live 30 miles from the office, so that cuts out time and cost, reducing my carbon footprint.

    As the most qualified and experienced person in the office it is easier to ask me, so much of my time is spent helping others, at the expense of my own priorities. Being self employed and self driven I can ensure that what needs to be done is done, and to a high standard without the usual office distractions. The concept of the usual working week also changes, very often getting ahead of the game by working on Sunday, allowing flexibility during the week.

    Having recently had a heart attack it also allows me to exercise and rest according to need, so all round I can see the benefits. Equally I can see that if you are a wage slave and lacking motivation it could be seen as additional holiday, so horses for courses.

  8. From personal experience I agree that working from home can increase productivity (due to the ability to focus more), lead to more hours being worked (from removing the daily commutes from the equation – and for the next reason) and are probably very conscientious (borne of fear of unfair judgement, as per the regressive tone of this article).

    Surely an employee’s goals and objectives remain the same whether they work from home or in an office? As the author himself says, “what gets measured gets done”. And I agree wholeheartedly with others who’ve posted comments. If you treat your employees like grown up adults rather than errant children, you will be rewarded with greater levels of motivation and better results. If you do the latter, you’re more likely to instil a culture of clock watching and leave people feeling aggrieved if they go the extra mile.

    It all comes down to common sense and mutual respect from both parties. If it’s not working or someone is taking advantage of the situation then it will be evidently clear.

    The benefits to employers from offering flexibility (not least retaining valued staff who may have family commitments that are too tricky to juggle or are dealing with other issues that become too difficult without that flexibility etc.) should not be underplayed.

    One of the biggest factors behind the gender gap in senior roles is the lack of flexibility offered by employers. The reality is, many with families cannot balance both parents working with the cost and demands of childcare/school drops off etc. And that flexibility should be gender neutral. We recently advertised a position making it clear we would offer flexibility in terms of hours and working from home on a pre-agreed basis occasionally. The quality of candidates went through the roof. Employers are missing a trick by not embracing it more. On the whole they’re definitely not being ‘tricked’ by those who do work from home. As its such a rarity (but thankfully becoming less so) to find roles that do offer flexibility, once they have it staff are often so grateful that they’ll do everything they can to make it work.

  9. Fully agree with the comments suggesting increased productivity when working from home. I think the author may have trust issues when it comes to the people working for him.

  10. robert milligan 28th April 2017 at 3:29 pm

    I run a small IFA business, with seven full time staff, three work from home full time, Its the Job being done that counts, if it is not important where, then from home makes no difference so offer the option, As fas as being an IFA, A few years ago I was asked how many miles I drove each years visiting clients, I worked out I had at forty miles an hour and a forty hour working week, spent over three months sat in my car, So I moved from working from home to working in a high street office, asked my client to come to me, My turnover quadrupled, so as I said, it depends on the Job at hand,

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