According to the latest figures from the International Labour Organization, some 300 million people worldwide work from home. One million of them live in the UK.
And yet despite the millions who are already putting paid to the productivity and motivational benefits of alternative ways of working,the traditional 9-5 office job is still perceived to be a more legitimate means of making a living.
We gathered a collection of bloggers, all with experience working in traditional office environments as well as in more flexible and remote ways, to take part in the Digital Powwow; a remote-roundtable style chat about the perceptions and realities of home-working. This is what they said.
There is a sense, especially in the world of communications and marketing, that homeworking is popular and widely-accepted. Is this true and are there any potential barriers to uptake?
HL: “Once you have proved you can earn an income, people become more accepting – earning an income outside of the traditional norms is often hard for people to get their heads around.”
ED: “Initially my family was a bit sceptical, but as I’m the main bread winner and working from home people have become more accepting.”
If it’s difficult to win over friends and loved ones it’s hardly surprising that some bosses also have misgivings. And yet progressive companies such as the AA already have call centre workers who are based at home, with research showing the home-based workers are 36% more efficient than their office-based counterparts.
So why are there still industry reservations?
SB: “Having worked in this way for more than 20 years – I understand the pros and cons of home working. If you have a big family with children it can prove difficult to separate the business and home life – too many distractions. And working from home is unsuitable for certain types of jobs and can mean it’s harder to maintain team spirit. Plus, there is the potential difficulty of managing home workers and monitoring their performance.”
All our debaters agreed that increased staff motivation thanks to homeworking reduces stress levels further. The material cost savings for businesses are also evident in the reduction of office space costs and utilities; and there are significant productivity gains to be made from fewer interruptions.
They also agreed on the reduction in employee churn, with home-working helping to retain working parents with childcare responsibilities as well as widening the recruitment pool to those who are, for example, disabled and unable to get into the office every day.
Our debaters were unanimous that for employees looking to persuade senior management about the efficacy of home-working, the key is in the results.
So advances in social media must be beneficial?
ED: “My team of four are located across the UK: Edinburgh, Brighton, Bournemouth and the Midlands. We’ve found it is not important to be face-to-face, through conference calling, IM online management tools and Twitter we can stay in touch all the time.”
So what are the key takeouts?
If you are a business looking to implement a home or flexi working strategy, you should consider:
- Using local work hubs for your employees to offer a space for the team to get together and fire ideas off one another
- Placing more trust in the workforce
If you are an employee looking to alter management perceptions, you should consider:
- Highlighting real-life case studies such as the AA call centre to your senior management to demonstrate benefits such as increased productivity and motivation
- If you are based in London, the potential travel chaos expected during next year’s Olympics is a very good reason for your senior management to put some serious thought into more flexible working schemes in good time
And should we all be done with offices?
SB: “Home-working is not for everybody, sometimes the home just isn’t suitable; what if the person lives in a flat share, for example. That’s why work hubs are a good idea. I think ultimately businesses should take flexible working more seriously, but they need to have more trust in their work force. Salaries should be based on outputs and objectives, not bums on seats for 7.5 hours a day.”
The Digital Powwow Home-working Debate is available as a podcast on the Love/Hate Travel blog.