The last 20 years has seen a dramatic growth in flexible working as employees and employers recognise that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, a recent ‘Job Exodus’ survey conducted by Investors In People1 found that 34% of employees would prefer flexible working to a 3% pay rise. The dramatic growth of mobile communications and high speed broadband has enabled a growing number of people to take flexible working to the ultimate stage. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) an estimated 13.9% of the workforce, or a massive 4.2 million workers, now work from home.
The nature of the office environment makes it very easy for work colleagues to upset the work schedule for the day by influencing the agenda based on their needs. Working from home removes these distractions and allows employees to prioritise their own work.
Such distractions may only take a couple of minutes to deal with, but studies have shown that it can take up to twenty minutes to regain concentration afterwards. Working remotely puts control in the hands of the employee, limits the amount of distractions encountered and therefore increases productivity.
The benefits of working from home range from financial advantage, to a better work life balance. The time factor in not having to commute cannot be underestimated. The average daily commute in the UK is 49 minutes each way, or 8 hours each week 2. This is equivalent to an extra day working each week. Aside from the time traveling, and the stress factor, just think about the cost of commuting. Whether petrol or public transport, it’s a cost which is borne by the employee, estimated at an average of over £150 per month. Research has shown that as many as one third of Brits turned down a job because of the cost of commuting. Working from home means not only more time can be devoted to productive activities, but is also actually equivalent to a significant pay rise.
Some companies fear losing control if staff don’t come into the office to work, but in reality the opposite is often the case. Putting trust in employees leads to increased staff engagement which in itself results in increased productivity. It’s easy to see if anybody is absent due to holiday or sickness when staff are office based, but this is not immediately apparent for those working from home. This can be overcome very easily by sophisticated staff time and attendance management systems. Staff are able to log in remotely via their smart phone or tablet to inform HQ that they are currently working from home, are out on site, or are absent because of sickness or holiday. The data can be accessed in real time so HR and line management are kept fully up to date with staff attendance. The same system can also be used to streamline holiday requests or time off, which eliminates the need for paper request forms or phone calls and manual entries.
A Better Life Balance
Working from home allows greater flexibility. The ‘office’ can be anywhere, from a study, the kitchen table, local library or even a local coffee bar. The flexibility extends to the working day as well. Provided there aren’t urgent deadlines or scheduled ‘virtual’ meetings, employees can set their own timetable. Time can be built in to cover a range of domestic activities without impinging on the work schedule, which is especially important for parents and elderly carers who can have the peace of mind that they are available if they are ever needed.
Working at home means more opportunity for healthier meals and snacks. No need to pop down to the canteen (or the local café) for a mediocre coffee, unappetizing sandwiches or a mass produced meal. You can eat what you want, when you want it. It’s cheaper, more satisfying and much more time efficient to blend a smoothie from your own fridge, have your own blend of coffee or enjoy home-made lunch from your own kitchen.
Face-to-face meetings are rarely essential in modern business. We’ve all attended those meetings that seem to drag on forever, but the majority of communication with colleagues can be achieved by a telephone call or an e-mail. These are usually more direct and to the point, focusing thoughts on the salient facts and avoiding the usual trend of developing into a friendly chat. If a group discussion really is needed it can often be far more effective to set up a ‘virtual’ meeting. This can be by a conference phone call or even a web-cam and will probably last 10 or 15 minutes instead of an hour or two. The saving in man-hours alone vastly outweighs the cost of the technology which is usually readily at hand in any case.
There are also significant benefits for employers in having staff working from home. Supplying a laptop, a mobile phone and even contributing to phone bills is far more cost effective for employers than providing expensive office space, equipment and supporting infrastructure. Aside from the benefits to the bottom line, just think of the reduced carbon footprint. There are times when customers or suppliers need to talk to specific staff members, but e-mails accounts can be run remotely, and phone calls can usually be forwarded at the push of a button.
Allowing staff to work from home increases job satisfaction and means happier staff, both of which engender higher morale, loyalty and engagement. It also means employers can broaden their talent pool by taking on the best staff as there are no longer geographical limits. Providing the opportunity for staff to work from home is also a powerful retention tool and leads to lower staff turnover.
Remote working doesn’t work across the board, as industries such as manufacturing and retail require on-site attendance. It’s not unusual for sales teams to be based off-site and work directly from home, but the opportunity for administrative and management staff to work from home can be a real benefit for both employer and employee.
Of course there are disadvantages as well. If staff are not on-site, managers may perceive a problem monitoring individual performance. However, seeing staff in the office is only monitoring presence; regular communication and setting goals and KPIs is a far more effective way to measure performance. Staff interaction and maintaining team spirit are more difficult if staff work remotely, but if this is an issue, splitting time between home and office working is an easy solution.
Being based at home, either all or part of the working week, has real advantages for both employees and employers. If the latest time and attendance solutions allow even more companies the opportunity for staff to work more flexibly, be more productive and improve their work-life balance, then it’s a win-win situation for all.