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.