Does working from home harm your career?
Over four million people in the UK work from home. But many companies still lack the organisational structure to manage remote workers effectively
It is common for employers keen to promote a modern workplace culture to offer some degree of flexible working. This could be for parents who leave the office early to make the school run, those faced with lengthy commutes, or employees who simply wish to stay home – accessing emails from the coffee table rather than their desks.
The benefits are numerous. There is no morning commute, meaning diligent workers who choose not to spend extra time in bed can begin their working days earlier and finish later, and there are fewer office distractions.
Home workers said they felt isolated and unsupported
Early studies of the effectiveness of stay-at-home workers showed remote employees were more effective in their day-to-day roles than office-based staff. One reason was, quite simply, gratitude. Staff were so keen to prove the merit in home working that they consciously worked harder and longer, producing better results for their organisations.
But what happens when gratitude runs out? Today, 4.2 million UK employees work from home, according to the Trades Union Congress. Thanks to the promotion of a better work-life balance and increasingly connected technology it is no longer unreasonable for employees to ask for, or expect, a degree of flexibility.
My research – a study of more than 500 staff and managers on attitudes towards flexible working – attempted to discover whether these positive effects have waned.
The results revealed that after a prolonged period of remote working, employees no longer viewed working from home as a privilege and therefore behaved no differently to office-based staff, producing similar results. In fact, some employees began to harbour ill-feeling towards their employers as they felt they were not supported enough.
Working from home, although convenient, also brings added expense for employees. Greater use of lighting and heating pushes utility bills up – something office-based colleagues do not have to consider. Remote workers may also feel that home working brings significant savings for companies, which should be shared with them.
Aside from additional financial support, remote workers craved professional support as well. Home workers had less communication with office staff, limited face-to-face interactions and, over time, found it harder to integrate with staff at the office. Reduced engagement, limited communication and a lack of opportunities for knowledge sharing stunted their professional progression.
The isolation faded company loyalties to the point where remote workers were almost free agents – a worrying prospect for any employer looking to retain top staff. Not only was it difficult to convince remote workers to come into the office, but the breakdown of relationships often caused employers to resent their remote employees, feeling that they were taking liberties and were not dedicated enough to the organisation.
Jeremy Tipper, director of consulting and innovation at Alexander Mann Solutions, has experienced this breakdown first-hand. “Encouraging flexible working in a manner that best suits employees’ lifestyles is the norm now for a vast number of businesses,” he says. “The majority of the workforce now goes so far as to expect access to more flexible options. However, it can be detrimental to the business if an employer or even other members of staff fall into the trap of viewing those making this choice as second-rate employees.”
Many companies lack the organisational structure to manage remote workers effectively – here are three tips to help them:
Implementing flexible working without actively managing the arrangement is a huge problem for many companies. Some remote workers operate without instruction, little communication and no training. Companies should set flexible working policies at the beginning of the employment contract and review practices regularly with employees to ensure mutual understanding and satisfaction, and to foster wider organisational support.
Many home workers may prefer to have less contact with colleagues, but this can be detrimental to team cohesion and affect both company compliance and productivity. A communications strategy should be employed from the outset and followed. Regular catch-up meetings, Skype and video conferencing can help bridge the gap between home and office, and keep remote staff integral to the team.
Better support for flexi workers can prevent ill will. Buy-in from all sides is essential for this. Establishing opportunities for employees to give feedback on working practices and suggest areas for improvement can give workers a sense of control over their roles. Tipper adds: “These individuals are just as valuable and it’s the responsibility of employers to ensure they feel like they are part of the business, even if they aren’t physically in the office.”
As flexible working increases, it is vital for employers to be better equipped to manage remote staff. If companies expect home workers to be more productive, or if workers expect greater levels of flexibility or support without reciprocation, either party – or both – could be left disappointed.
Article Courtesy of:https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/nov/08/does-working-from-home-harm-your-career