More employees want to work from home – how can we make it happen?
Today marks the 11th National Work from Home Day, organised by Work Wise UK, who promote smarter working (flexible working, good homeworking and mobile working).
The good news is that there has been some real progress over the past decade, with employee homeworking reaching the record level of 1,521,000. Furthermore, the number of home workers has increased by a quarter of a million during the past decade, with women accounting for 65% of the growth
The bad news is that progress has still been too slow, given that millions more employees want to work from home. 5.7% of employees now work from home, up from 5.1% a decade ago.
It’s now time to take stock and consider what needs to change in order to allow more who want to work from home to actually do so.
By all accounts, worried supervisors and line managers remain the biggest barriers to allowing homeworking for employees who want it. Measuring attendance is still too often a proxy for management.
Yet all the evidence (including the 2014 Stanford University study) suggests that employees who work from home are more productive.
Professor Cary Cooper from the Manchester Business School says that too many employees do not really trust their workers, although employers “will never say that” to their workers.
Changing organisational culture often needs support and leadership from senior management, with agreement and buy-in from employees and their trade unions. And of course it also needs to win over the sceptical line managers, who may well have to adopt some new ways of supervising people and of dealing with any problems that may arise.
This should be achievable, with the proper negotiations and perhaps supported by some training, as a move away from a culture of presentism is actually likely to benefit managers the most. Put simply, they tend do the longest hours and therefore have the most to gain from cutting their commutes and improving productivity.
One tactic for overcoming inertia is to pilot access to homeworking in the department or site where there is most support for it amongst employees and management. This should generate a working model that can be used to help persuade other line managers of the merits, and it also allows the arrangements to be refined before they are applied to all staff.
Turning to retention, the 2015 Global Generations survey found that lack of flexibility or opportunities to telecommute was one of the top five reasons why people of all ages quit their jobs. This result held true for a range of countries as diverse as the US, Germany and Brazil as well as for the UK. If no action is taken then this situation is likely to get worse as the wired-up millennial generation makes up a bigger part of the workforce
Younger people regard e-communication as a fact of life and are entirely comfortable with it, never having known the time before tablets and smart phones, so it is very likely that the so-called Generation Y, born in the 1980s and 1990s, will have a stronger desire to work from home than people my age.
Wise employers should keep in touch with the expectations of the next generation of workers. When it comes to flexibility and working from home, listening to what younger people want is likely to be a strong driver for change.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Modern home-working is good for the economy, as it helps businesses hold on to talented staff and boosts productivity. And it allows those with caring responsibilities or a disability greater access to the jobs market.
“While home-working may not work in all professions, I would urge employers to look at the value it can bring to their business and their workforce.”
Phil Flaxton, Chief Executive of Work Wise UK, which organises National Work from Home Day, said:
“The structure of our economy and consequently our workplaces has changed significantly. Cultural, economic and social changes are affecting attitudes to how we balance or mix work and lifestyle, where increasing mobility and technology is shifting the acceptance or need for traditional office based, 9-5 work patterns, to be replaced by more home-based, flexible ways and periods of work.”
“Such fundamental change towards home-working is recognised by increasing numbers of inspired, and more trusting Employers.”
“They recognise that by changing outdated working practices and implementing a Smarter Working strategy, such as home-working, provides them with an opportunity to set a road map for real work force transformation, creating benefits for their Employees, themselves as well as contributing to the growth of the UK economy.”