No longer seen as soft option or sneaking another duvet day, home working today is now far more about flexibility, work/life balance and improving productivity.
Not that long ago, the phrase “working from home” was a rather derogatory term; its emphasis was firmly on home not work. But over the past decade or so, it has undergone something of a revolution and there are now around 3.5 million UK employees who regularly work from home.
This changing attitude has been driven by several factors including technology, increasing competition and the complexity of many employees’ home and working lives. Broadband technology, mobile devices and social networks have revolutionised how people live and work. The technology’s reliability, the versatility and rapid adoption of smartphones in particular, has made it possible to work virtually anywhere: employees no longer need to go to an office to access information.
Competitive pressures have made led to a continuous drive to businesses to cut overheads, improve productivity and use assets more efficiently. The very obvious office cost saving opportunities which home working offers complements this perfectly. Increasingly too, as people’s lives are complex, so they look for flexibility to work around their various commitments. Working from home often provides this, allowing employees to adapt their work times and patterns accordingly. For many women with children, the option to work from home can make the difference between them returning to work or not.
Companies embracing Working from Home
Organisations such as BT, Vodafone, Microsoft, Unilever and Transport for London have pioneered home working initiatives. Telecoms giant, BT now has around 15,000 of its 92,000 workforce working from home and says that each home based worker saves the company around £6000 per year, is 20% more productive and takes fewer sick days. In addition to reducing overheads, home working can improve productivity by reducing commuting times. A recent survey by 2E2, the IT company revealed that UK workers lose an average of 1.5 working days each year through transport delays and associated problems, which equates to £1.2bn in lost productivity for UK businesses. In addition to the time and costs savings, home working can benefit the environment too: an employee working at home three days can avoid generating around 4kg of pollutants a year, as well as saving more than £3700 according to Telework Exchange.
The desire for flexible and home working also reflects changing attitudes to work amongst today’s workforce; many now rate flexibility more highly than salary and other benefits. 70% of college students and 69% of employees interviewed recently by IT company, Cisco, see being in an office regularly as unnecessary. Whilst acknowledging the need for office based meetings, one in four respondents felt that their productivity would increase if they worked from home.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Home Working
Whilst there are many advantages, home working is not practical for every business. It simply isn’t possible for retailers or some manufacturers, who need people in their shops, making cars in one place or building houses on site. Home working can also present some management challenges: running projects or campaigns with multiple teams is not always an easy or effective. It requires clear leadership, effective management and a considerable amount of trust and flexibility from everyone concerned. It may save direct costs, but can result in a higher management costs than originally planned!
Employees too, can find permanently working from home more challenging than they had expected. Whilst many appreciate the flexibility and believe they are more productive, they often report considerable downsides. A recent survey of home workers, by SMEDiscounts, the group buying website, showed that more than 80% said they worked extra hours over the weekend and in the evenings, and over 50% admitted to difficulties in separating their work and home lives.
Whilst productivity and efficiency are important, many people who work at home say that they feel isolated and miss the conversations and colleagues at the office. There’s considerable anecdotal evidence that a brief conversation or bouncing ideas around with colleagues is far more effective for problem solving than hours’ researching on the Internet.
Office & Home Working
Often combining home and office working is the most effective option. It ensures continuity and saves costs, but also give employees a flexible working option. In light of these changing patterns, many companies will take the opportunity to review their operations and the services they use: often looking for more flexible options than traditional office contracts with their long leases and limited services. As a result, we have introduced new packaged services to meet these demands. Short-term contracts from 1 month, hot desks, virtual desktops and virtual offices, cloud computing services, video-conferencing, instant meeting rooms and passports to access multiple business centres across London and the south east are just some of the options that we have developed to support companies with remote, flexible and home based employees.
With changing attitudes to work and the technology to facilitate an “always on” culture, the traditional 9 to 5 working day is no longer the only viable option. Whilst it’s unlikely to disappear completely, its long term future is certainly under review. Rising travel and fuel costs, environmental concerns and people’s desire for greater flexibility means that working at home may eventually become the norm, rather than the exception for most people.