Extended flexible working rights, technology and social change make working from home an increasingly cost-effective and attractive option both for businesses and the individuals who work for them.
As a manager, you need to make sure that you have the right systems in place to properly support homeworking.
1. Does it suit?
Some jobs are better suited to homeworking than others
The key question is to what extent the employee needs to attend the office. Jobs which particularly suit full-time or part-time homeworking include:
- sales, marketing and customer service;
- support and maintenance;
- computer programming;
- consultancy and professional services;
- training and education;
- writing, editing, research and translation;
- some administrative and secretarial work;
- jobs where home acts as a base for mobile workers such as sales representatives.
Individuals need the right skills and personality traits to be effective homeworkers
Training can help employees develop suitable skills. Typically, good homeworkers are strong on:
- time management and self-discipline;
- motivation, self-sufficiency, initiative and the ability to work alone;
- communication – for example, they have a good telephone manner and the ability to get on with new people;
- lifestyle management – they have the ability to manage the split between home life and work life;
- technology – they have the ability to manage IT and telecommunications equipment.
2. The home office
A good home office should meet minimum requirements
- A work space and reasonable working environment. Homeworkers may need to gain the co-operation of others who live in the same place.
- Secure premises and a lockable cupboard or desk. Homeworkers should avoid leaving valuable equipment or sensitive information where there is a risk of theft or confidentiality breaches.
- Compliance with health and safety regulations, including suitable furniture.
- A business telephone line and broadband access.
- A computer with internet and email access, office software and access to a printer (see ‘Using technology’). Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can allow your staff to connect to your company network from home.
- Adequate insurance. Home contents insurance normally excludes business equipment but most employers’ insurance policies cover any place of business. Additional insurance may be required if homeworkers have visitors or business meetings at home.
3. Benefits and risks
The main benefit of working from home is increased productivity
- More efficient use of time. Homeworkers often face fewer interruptions and spend less time commuting.
- Improved employee retention. Homeworking often suits parents who need to fit in with school-age children.
- Reduced levels of sick leave and stress.
- A better chance of recruiting the most able candidates. Potential recruits may prefer the option of full-time, part-time, casual homeworking, or flexitime.
- Control over the office environment, eg noise, heat, ventilation and lighting.
The main problems are similar to those of running a decentralised business
Particular risks and problems can include:
- losing touch with employees and difficulty in arranging ad-hoc meetings;
- increased initial training requirements and expenditure on setting up home offices;
- reduced loyalty due to increased isolation;
- deterioration in employees’ skills and work quality;
- difficulty in controlling the security of information;
- confused goals, standards, expectations and systems.
Effective management of homeworkers can overcome most problems
- In many businesses, informal homeworking goes on anyway, whether or not there is an official policy of allowing it. It therefore makes sense to tackle the issues and make the most of the opportunities.
4. Introducing homeworking
Put the groundwork in place before starting to implement homeworking
- Prepare a homeworking contract.
- Introduce a training plan.
- Prepare written procedures for the tasks involved. Attempting to change working procedures at the same time as introducing homeworking can lead to problems.
Start with a small pilot scheme
- Limit the size of the pilot to a manageable number of people.
- Give employees the option of participating. Many employers find that employees approach them with homeworking and flexible working requests.
- Begin with part-time or casual homeworking.
- Keep costs down. The only significant cost should be for training and home-office equipment.
- If the pilot is successful, you can then roll the scheme out to other employees.
The introduction of homeworking needs to be planned and managed like any project
- It requires formal review, evaluation and measurement.
- The key to success is to manage flexible workers in terms of their output rather than their attendance. Attempting to maintain the same direct control over individual activities is usually doomed to failure.