Shirking from home?

Certain jobs will always require staff to remain at their place of work. But for many employees, the option to work from home is fast becoming more desirable — and economical. According to a 2017 Gallup survey of more than 15,000 working adults, 43% of respondents said they spent at least some time working remotely. So it would be easy to assume that the current direction of travel is going only one way.  Which is why a large corporate bank’s recent decision to no longer allow employees to work from home created shockwaves in the City and grabbed a tonne of media attention.  The bank informed its employees that they would from now on be expected to work from their offices full-time, apart from in “unavoidable circumstances”.  Eventually the bank did a fairly swift U-turn once it realised quite how unpopular its new policy was proving with its employees.  But this is not the only institution to question remote working in favour of the traditional model - recent years have shown other US giants reaching similar conclusions.   So what is the future for remote working?

Few would argue that there are huge advantages to workers having the flexibility to work away from the office.  Many feel they can simply get more done. As long as you’re not sneaking off to a yoga class or watching Countdown, you can actually be more productive when working from home – as well as putting on a load of laundry and waiting for the plumber!  And in addition to avoiding the occasional irritations of office life (interruptions, loud co-workers, office gossip etc), you can also reclaim the hours you would usually be commuting, adding further productivity to your day.  

Businesses also enjoy many benefits from offering their staff the ability to work remotely.  Whatever the market conditions, employers want to attract the best talent and by appealing to a wider demographic they will have a larger pool of talent to hire from.  Working parents and those with disabilities are just two examples of employees who value flexibility, often above anything else. Retention rates can also be higher where flexibility is offered, allowing people’s working patterns to evolve with their life stagesResearch has indicated increased staff motivation when home working is permitted, with reduced stress and sickness levels.  And with the price of real estate getting ever higher, organisations can enjoy tangible financial benefits, saving on office space and other facilities.

With such a rosy picture painted, even entertaining the idea that home working may not always be desirable is almost a taboo subject. But it’s important to be mindful that things are not always as binary as they may seem.

Some managers report deterioration in employees' skills and work quality when they have a lot of time working away from the office.  Others claim difficulty in managing (or being managed by) home workers, as well as the challenge of ensuring staff development and upgrading skills. And that it can be harder to maintain team morale when employees are working in different locations.

With companies within the financial sector in particular, information security problems could be more likely to occur and increased red tape means there are more hoops to jump through to allow effective remote working.  It’s also worth noting that working from home is not for everyone – it suits some jobs better than others, and suits some personality types better than others.  Feelings of isolation amongst home workers are not unusual and morale can be affected.  You may not realise it until you’re not there, but the casual collaboration that happens in an office allows absorption of colleagues’ best practices or an impromptu brainstorming session over lunch - which is obviously hard to replicate from home. Ultimately, however, most of these challenges are resolvable where there is sufficient will.  And for many, the primary obstacle to home working boils down to a culture of presenteeism, driven by managerial fear of what someone is really doing when they are out of sight.

So is remote working these days a “nice to have” or an essential benefit to offer your staff?  Our recent working parent’s study told us that over half of working parents wanted flexible working hours, that coupled with another survey showing that 77% of workers said they’d be more likely to accept a job if it offered the ability to work from home at least some of the time tells a compelling story.  With statistics such as these abounding, together with what we are starting to understand about the needs and desires of millennials in the workplace, withholding this perceived perk feels at best short-sighted and at worst hugely damaging to a company’s reputation.   

If granting employees the ability to work from home really does lead to improvements in their health and well-being, as research would indicate, then this will follow through into the health and wellbeing of the organisation as a whole.   Creating a culture of trust is surely more beneficial than one of fear. 

Andrea Grossman, Director, Talking Talent