Leadership For The Future


Home working – law of diminishing returns?

Home working, also known as teleworking or remote working, is a work-life practice that has grown significantly in the last decade thanks largely to the technology that has made it possible for workers to perform their roles from home (outside the office) during business hours.  As more employees take up these arrangements, one of the questions still not altogether answered is whether staff under these arrangements, are more productive than their office-based counter parts.

One could consider that a revolution has occurred in the workplace in the last few decades. These changes such as socio-demographic shifts – increasing numbers of women in the workforce and an aging work population as well as technological advancements are affecting people’s expectations and needs from the workplace. An increase in the number of women participating in the workplace has contributed to the growth of dual income households, putting additional pressure on individuals to manage their work and their personal life. New technologies allow people to work faster and perform job tasks from any location at any time. We have also witnessed a change in cultural values where employees want to achieve a better work-life balance, rather than spending more time in the office.

A recent study was completed by a student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  It comprised over 500 respondents to an on-line questionnaire and interviews with 28 employees and 12 managers.  The research suggested that the benefits of homeworking diminish over time for both the employee and the employer.  In practice when employees first take up such an arrangement it is seen as a ‘privilege’ and the individual feels indebted to their manager and will therefore go beyond what is required.  However, if homeworking is the norm, as more employees take up flexible arrangements, or as the employee continues in the arrangement, these positive behaviours decline and the arrangement is perceived more as an ‘entitlement’ in much the same way as paid holiday.

The study suggests that homeworking initially enhances performance and that the main value of homeworking is achieving a work-life balance and avoiding the daily commute to work.  From an organisation’s perspective homeworking, essentially offering flexibility, is seen as an investment in the individual and also a potential cost saving if desk space can be freed up, particularly when the organization is expanding.

So how can you make sure your organisation’s flexible arrangements are working for individuals and for your business?   Firstly, it is about managing expectations.  Regularly checking in with the staff member to make sure they are clear about their personal objectives and deliverables.   Secondly it will be important to review the arrangement annually during a performance review conversation to make sure it is still benefiting the individual and the organisation. So is home working / flexible work arrangement sometime you should put on your ‘to do’ list?