In association with Hiscox
It used to be a person’s castle, but now home is often their office too.
The UK has caught the homeworking bug. Over 4 million people work from home, either for a day or the whole week, up from 1.3 million in 1998. But many more want to work flexibly and for a lot of firms, homeworking has become a handy HR tool to boost staff engagement and morale.
More than seven in ten workers in the UK work either full-time or part-time with the option of flexible working, according to a 2017 survey by Deloitte and Timewise. But British companies have lagged behind their European counterparts in offering flexible working, due largely to a lingering culture of fixed working hours and ‘presenteeism’, according to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Another 4 million would like to work from home at least part of the week but aren’t given the chance, according to the TUC. For many people looking for a new job it can be a deal-breaker if a prospective employer doesn’t offer them the opportunity to work from home.
If you’re thinking of offering homeworking, then here are some things to consider.
There’s a lot of proof that giving employees some freedom over where and when they work makes them more motivated and engaged. Homeworkers also feel more valued, less stressed and are more productive, research shows, as they’re free of the distractions of the office, and they’re also more inclined to work longer than if they know they’ve got to get home to beat the traffic or go to a parents’ evening.
Homeworking doesn’t suit every role or employee
So, draw up a list of jobs that can be done away from the office before inviting staff members who want the opportunity to work flexibly to apply. Treat every request fairly otherwise it could be divisive if some employees are allowed to work from home while others aren’t. In conjunction with the IoD Open House roadshows, you can see the IoD's brief employers’ guide to flexible work here.
But there are potential challenges in managing a team that might not all be based in the same place at the same time. If people work from home occasionally then you’ll hardly notice a difference, but if they work mostly away from the office then managers might need to work a bit harder.
The best homeworkers are happy to spend long periods of time working on their own without supervision. But even the most self-motivated and self-disciplined people can sometimes feel that out of sight is also out of mind. In a survey of 1800 professionals that work flexibly carried out by Timewise, three in ten said they have less status than office workers, while a quarter said they’d missed out on promotions.
So it’s important to schedule regular catch-ups with homeworkers, to supervise but also support them, to help keep them focused and motivated, but also to find out what are their ambitions as well as to just fill them in on what’s happening at work.
Reducing work-related stress
Homeworking is shown to substantially reduce employees’ levels of work-related stress, but too much blurring of the line between home and work can mean regular homeworkers find it hard to switch off and relax, according to research by Cardiff University. That can be particularly difficult if someone has to juggle work with caring for someone.
“Health and safety” prompts groans, but employers must provide a safe working environment for employees – including at their homes. A lot of that work will be low-risk, office stuff, but for other jobs you’ll need to consider the potential hazards. In some extreme cases your employee might need to apply for planning permission or even to pay business rates, so it’s worth investigating.
With a small business being hacked every 19 seconds , according to the former head of GCHQ, it’s also vital to ensure homeworking doesn’t compromise your firm’s cyber security.1 Employees should only be allowed to use authorised devices for work – you don’t want your IT system to be infected because someone has connected a personal laptop carrying a virus to your network.
Also, employees shouldn’t overlook data security because they’re working from home. The UK information watchdog has fined companies for homeworkers’ mistakes, such as losing laptops or keeping personally identifiable information unencrypted on home computers. You want to do everything to avoid a data breach, as they’re often costly, time consuming and reputationally very damaging.
It's a win-win
Homeworking works best when it’s a win-win for both employer and employee. The biggest obstacle to successfully adopting flexible working is the attitude of bosses. Managers need to appreciate its benefits rather than focus on the potential drawbacks of not having someone in the office every day. But once you manage to get that balance right then homeworking can help you to create a happier, healthier and more productive business.
The views expressed in blogs such as the above are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Institute of Directors.
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