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The truth about working from home

08 Jul 15

I consider myself fairly lucky in that most of what I do as an information worker can be done anywhere – including from home.  The only notable exception is having meetings (the time honoured alternative to doing work).

When I do choose to work from home though, I am concerned that the historical stigma associated with not being “at work” would appear that I’m slacking off or dodging responsibility in some way.

What remote workers do at home

Our friends at Citrix ran a survey which had some alarming statistics – 43% of remote workers watch TV or movies, while 20% play video games. Even worse, around a quarter of the people surveyed drink booze, take a nap or do household chores or cook dinner.

Perhaps surprisingly, the story goes on to say this doesn’t actually worry managers too much. The good news for me is that flexible workers are recognised as often more productive than people working in the office.

Flexibility can increase productivity

Businessweek quotes a manager who says if the employee is doing the work and getting the right results, it doesn’t matter what they get up to during the normal workday. He goes on to say the whole point of teleworking is to allow employees to fit their work into the rest of their lives.

Recently, ConnectSolutions research showed that 77% of employees report greater productivity when working remotely.  In my case, having the flexibility to choose where and how I work based on what I’m doing is crucial to being productive.

The fact that I can work from anywhere also means that if I'm travelling or I am out of the office, I can use downtime effectively.  Time spent on flights, in hotels and in cafe's are now opportunities to get more done.

Different tasks are best in different environments

Thinking about my weekly tasks, many involve collaborating and working as part of a team, but a large number also require focus and uninterrupted time to think and work through a problem or project.

My work environment at Spark Digital often involves distractions and working towards a shared goal – which can be easily fit in when in collaboration mode, but disruptive when I’m trying to focus.

The fact that I can choose where I will work based on what I need to accomplish means that I can get the most out of my time.

Remote workers need to be managed differently

While remote working can have many up-sides, it definitely isn't the best option for everyone.  Also you need a different approach to manage a remote team - and there are plenty of mistakes that you can make that will cause it to fail.

Remote working isn't suited to certain types of roles and working styles.  For example, people who aren't strong self-motivators can become less productive - and those working closely with a team could benefit from being face-to-face.

As well as this, visibility can be lost - it can be hard to know what staff are doing when they aren't in the office and hard to manage workloads across a team.  You may need clear metrics to manage performance.

You may find that despite how well you manage them, some people just don't suit remote working.

Remote workers can be happier - and healthier

With many businesses suffering from a skills shortage, attracting and retaining the best staff could require different thinking.  Flexible working could attract staff who will value lifestyle over income. 

In fact, Ambition Global Recruitment even found in a survey that 56% of IT employees favour flexible working over a promotion.

The ConnectSolutions research also showed that 45% of remote workers sleep better, 35% exercise more and 42% have healthier diets.  53% of respondents claim that remote working reduces stress.

I personally find that flexibility allows me to be happier as well as more productive.  It means that work is something I do, not somewhere I have to be.  This ability to work from anywhere has blurred the line between work and play, for the benefit of all involved.

...but they can feel left out

There is a risk that staff who aren't in the office could feel disconnected from the organisation.  It's important to make sure that remote workers still feel like part of the team and involved in company culture.

As identified in 5 ways to ensure remote employees feel part of the team there are a number of considerations if you are going to embrace regular remote working.  Communications need to be seamless, collaboration tools need to be available and social interactions that include remote staff are vital.

Where possible, making sure staff can spend time face to face with the rest of the team can really help.  As much as I enjoy using technology - sometimes I just need to get into the same room with my colleagues to bond effectively.

The truth about working from home

Reflecting on the Citrix article, I’m wondering if the 20% of time spent playing video games and watching TV isn’t actually instead of working.  Maybe it's because of time saved commuting to work in rush hour, where I can save at least an hour when I work from home.  Also I could also save valuable minutes by not showering or ironing a shirt.

As well as having more hours in the day, there are massive potential savings for the employee; including reduced costs for travel, housing and even clothing.

Working from home can provide a number of benefits to both businesses and their employees.  There are some social and management questions that need to be answered before jumping in - but I believe that most businesses can benefit from some level of remote working.

David Reiss is a thought leader at Spark Digital. He writes about digital transformation, innovation and disruption on LinkedIn. You can follow him here

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