The London School of Economics (LSE) has just published some interesting research on the long-term impacts of home working. As a flexible worker, I was interested to read the results, however, I was disappointed by the article on the news in The Times because they had clearly misunderstood the outcomes, focusing on how ‘working at home can foster bad habits’… But home working isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of flexibility.
When we dig a little deeper, it turns out that the LSE research confirms what we all know to be true; people like to have a choice about their place of work. The study found that employees disliked being forced to work at home, just as much as they disliked being forced to work in an office. It seems you can’t please them all!
However, as both a part-time home worker and full-time anywhere worker, here are my tips on how to combat the issues flagged by the research.
1. Crystal Clear
“If the company expects homeworkers to be a lot more productive or workers expect employers to give them a lot of flexibility and not have to reciprocate in kind, one or both are likely to be disappointed.” - Dr. Esther Canonico, LSE
Anywhere working requires clear communication, and an established trust based on conversations prior to commencing a flexible arrangement. As a manager, you need to confirm whether you are offering the flexibility of location, hours, or both. It’s also important to have a policy that clearly states whether employees must request to vary their set hours or workplace in advance of every instance, or if they have the freedom to work in their preferred way every day. That way there is no confusion and no disappointment.
2. There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM…
‘Those at home every day also become “socially and professionally isolated”, increasingly feeling out of touch, losing confidence in their skills and no longer able to “accurately interpret and use information”. Emails can be misinterpreted, whereas the signals are usually clear in a face-to-face meeting.’
It's easy for someone to feel overlooked or undervalued if they never get to see their boss or their colleagues. As a manager, it’s up to you to ensure your team feels included. You could ensure that your team uses video collaboration for all meetings so that everyone can join face-to-face, wherever they are. Conducting as much team communication face-to-face as possible eliminates the misunderstandings that can arise from email. You could hold virtual ‘coffee breaks’ and ‘lunches’ to ensure team members feel included. And as I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, if you are meeting one-to-one with your reports regularly you both benefit. You know first-hand about their achievements and are able to provide them with the same attention and recognition as those based in the office.
3. All by myself…
‘Sitting alone and focusing intently on a piece of work for several hours without a chat at the coffee machine can be negative. “The intensity of homeworking accentuates the negative impact of professional isolation on job performance.”’
Of course it’s easy to fall into negative behaviours if you feel isolated from the rest of your team, so it is essential that both yours and your team member’s mind-set be aligned right from the beginning. I would advise that managers still organise in-person meetings and team building exercises on a regular, if infrequent, basis. Using video collaboration solutions, can help maintain team bonds between dispersed members until they can be in the same place at the same time. Anywhere working doesn’t mean that you should never spend a day in the office with your colleagues, through the use of technology it just means it doesn’t have to be an everyday occurrence.
Work to Live…
One thing that is really important is to achieve balance. Any place, any time, any device can be a double edged sword, which is why the individual needs to find that balance. Work-life balance doesn’t always mean less time in the office, or working all hours; it means finding a solution that best suits the individual and enables their maximum personal productivity. That balance can shift with time, as our personal circumstances change, or our role does. Both employees and employers need to be flexible beyond home working to achieve the best possible results.
I read with interest Oleg Vishnepolsky’s piece on ‘Do NOT Work from home’ if you want to progress in your career. I have to say it read like an article from an era, when we had dial-up internet, people could only work between 9-5, and church and paper shops were the only places open on a Sunday.
Like many others commenting, I am also going to disagree with you Oleg, because working for a video solutions provider, means I can work from home or in fact anywhere I choose.
Being a professional working mother who is reporting to a direct-line manager situated in the US, means I have many demands on me to be flexible. From dealing with nursery drop-offs to dialing into important meetings at 8pm – which, I am glad I can do, from home in the comfort of my own surroundings and not at my desk in Slough (45 mins away).
There is a mention of career progression being stunted due to not being ‘physically present’. Surely most people these days want to work for an organisation that trusts its employees to get the job done, as opposed to working within set hours at a set location?
I know that there is still a 9-5 culture in some organisations and even in specific job roles. However, in the near future, this is set to change as more millennials join the workforce. They particularly value the idea of flexibility with 45% of them saying it takes precedence over pay when choosing a new job. With this in mind, I suspect there will be more demand for flexible workplaces that also provide career progression opportunities.
In fact, I am actually a case study of how it can be achieved. I have worked in my current position for nearly five years, and in that time I have been lucky enough to have been promoted three times, and have two children in between. I have possibly worked from home during half of that time, and having a boss in the US means I only see him for half of his day too. So you could say I stood next to no chance in being promoted – but I managed it, so I am sure others can too.
In fact, in order to be successful if you are a home or flexibly worker, you can apply these tips to get you started:
1) Application: It goes without saying, ensure you apply yourself to the job in hand – start your day with a daily to-do-list of jobs and deadlines
2) Status Check: Ensure you meet with your manager to regularly set and review goals / objectives – and check status of those at least bi-weekly over video
3) Communicate: Make sure you engage with relevant stakeholders / peer group regularly over video to ensure they are aware of what you are working on and to keep on top of the agenda
4) Manage your time: Take time back if necessary, perhaps you had a deadline to meet which meant you worked until 9pm one evening, but as result you missed your spin class – take the time back and go to your spin class
5) Technology: It always helps to have the right tools in place, if you want to work from home or flexibly, invest in collaboration solutions – IM, Video, Email - are all ways you can stay in touch and stay present – without ‘being present’
Anywhere working (what was ‘working from home’) is quickly becoming a well-recognised workplace approach, in fact Lancaster University’s Work Foundation predicts that flexible working will be the main way of working for 70 percent of organisations by 2020. With a flexible work culture, no one is bound by geographical location which provides the capability to hire the best talent in the world, literally… The bottom line is you can have it all ways – you can have that flexibility to live your life and get ahead too.