Saturday, 20 July 2013

Home working is not a charter for skivers

There is no doubt about it, as the summer goes on, and the longest period of decent weather we have had in years takes us into the school holidays, the debate over home working continues in certain quarters. 

When a forward looking (or at least that's what we thought!) company like Yahoo bans its staff from remote working with comments in its memo to all staff saying: "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," and "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home." it is certain that there are many skeptics about the benefits of home working. Unbelievably Google's CFO Patrick Pichette had a similar view, saying that "as few as possible" Google staff work from home!

I have heard of situations, in organisations where there is an issue with trust, that there are hoots of derision from staff when they hear that a colleague is working from home 'again'. In my view this is a very unhealthy situation. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere in this country, where in 2011 30% of UK employers allowed remote working (compared to 25% in 2004) it seems that the benefits of home working are being forgotten and the skeptics are being allowed to rule the roost.

Ultimately this is all about how you measure your outputs as an organisation. Surely if we are setting people the right objectives and managing them against these objectives, then this should be sufficient. It should not be about measuring the number of hours they work or their physical presence. It should be about whether or not they deliver.

So what are the benefits of allowing or even encouraging home working? Aside from promoting work life balance (probably a separate Charity Coach blog some time in the future!) I think that it encourages autonomy and entrepreneurialism, it demonstrates trust in your staff, creates a happy and engaged workforce, and enables staff to focus on areas of work on which it may be hard to concentrate in the office. For example I use my (infrequent) working at home days to carry out complex pieces of work that I simply could not do in the hustle and bustle of the office, for example writing a board paper or designing a presentation. Therefore working from home can increase output and productivity. 

So what are the down sides for an employer? Well, it could be argued that one less person in the office puts the burden on other staff to answer the phone, deal with visitors, etc. It can also be the case that employees who work frequently from home miss out on contact with colleagues and therefore become less engaged in the social side of working and perhaps even the organisation itself. I would argue that it is the employer's duty to minimise this through making sure that contact is maintained and that employees are not left to work at home with little or no interaction with colleagues. In that respect it is a bit like managing geographically dispersed staff.

So as an employee how can you work at home most effectively? Here are the Charity Coach's top tips:

1. Dedicate a workspace to home working. Not everyone has a study or spare bedroom, so if you are using your dining room table, make sure everyone in your family knows that. Clear the space and make it seem as much like a desk as possible. Ensure you have everything you need around you.

2. Avoid distractions. Don't combine the working day with domestic chores, caring for pets or children, eating loads more food or drinking more coffee. Take breaks as you would at work. 

3. Get dressed. I will never forget an Area Fundraising Manager at a previous charity telling me he worked in his pyjamas! He wished he had never told me that! In contrast one of his colleagues told me he put on a suit and tie for working at home even if he was not meeting with anyone that day. How can you expect to get into work 'mode' if you are not dressed for it!

4. Create boundaries. Let family members and friends know that, even though you are at home, you are working and not available for social contact.

5. Proactively stay in touch with colleagues and your boss, not just by email but also by phone. Don't wait for them to contact you. Use Skype to join meetings you cannot attend. (Now that definitely reinforces the need to get dressed!)

6. Make sure you adopt the right posture when using your computer. If necessary do a work station assessment to make sure your screen is at the right height, that you are sitting properly and, if necessary make the required adjustments.

7. Don't feel guilty for working at home. You are doing this to complete a specific piece of work or for a specific reason. You will almost certainly get more done if you follow the tips above and that will please both you and your boss.

Home working is a great thing. Technology has made it possible to work as well remotely as you can do in the office. It is down to the employer and the employee to make this work for mutual benefit.


  1. Completely agree and would suggest senior managers in organisations with geographically dispersed staff should have mobile and flexible contracts.

  2. vcschange Thanks for your comment. I think the charity sector has a quite enlightened approach to this but still has quite a long way to go. Community fundraisers have been working from home for at least the past 25 years, but I still think it is made difficult for staff who are primarily office based.