Guest Blog: Making Home Working Work by Elissa Dennis*

Global IT company IBM, a pioneer of remote-working since the 1980s, is reversing its policy in the US and relocating thousands of employees back to central office hubs.  New Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle Peluso has stated that for the company to turn its fortunes around, having seen sales decline steadily over the past few years, things need to change.  Her recipe for success is a mixture of great people, the right tools, a galvanising mission, effective evaluation of results and creative and inspiring locations.

There is a certain logic behind wanting everyone working in one place, but with today’s technology, there are more ways than ever for people to connect; they don’t have to be in the same location to work effectively together.  In making this move, IBM could find they lose more than they gain.  In the long term, it is likely to lose a significant amount of its talent, as those who don’t want to relocate or have a long commute leave the company.  There is also likely to be a painful period of transition as the company goes through this change and employees adjust.

For companies to thrive the right leadership and culture must be in place, that embraces and supports employees, wherever they may be located, stimulating them to be highly motivated and productive.  By taking this approach location becomes less of an issue and companies can draw from a much wider pool of talent, bringing those who are restricted by their circumstances or caring responsibilities into consideration for jobs.  People like mothers with young children or those with a disability, who often feel excluded from the employment market as they can struggle with fitting into the traditional work set, but have a lot to offer become potential employees once more.

In the UK, the trend for homeworking has been steadily growing, as companies recognise the benefits it brings both to them and to their employees.   Analysis from TUC that was released around National Working From Home Day in May last year, reveals that 1.5 million people regularly work from home.  This has risen by almost a quarter of a million in the last decade.  The biggest rise has been among women, with an increase of 35% in the last 10 years.

However, there are still further 4 million people who would like to work from home part of the time who are currently not able to do so.  This shows there is a huge demand that companies are not meeting and that could be damaging employee engagement.  Working flexibly is a top priority for many employees, especially when looking for a new job.  It’s particularly important to those in their 20s, who want a healthy work/life balance and value this type of flexibility.

While it is not possible for every job to done from home, there is definitely more scope for more employees and their employers to enjoy the benefits of remote working.  For this to be successful, it’s not simply a case of providing people with smart phones, laptops and remote IT access. Companies need to think about their working practices and make adjustments to ensure homeworkers feel included, valued and part of a team. Here are some areas that should be considered.

Set up homeworkers with the same care taken with office-based workers

For the best results, homeworkers should have a dedicated area set up for them to work from.  This can be as simple as using the kitchen table, but employers should know where their employees are working from and provide guidance to them about how to set this up in an ergonomic way.  The working environment has a significant impact on productivity, so companies need to invest in the same care and attention into the surroundings for home workers as they do for those who are office-based.

Train line managers in people management

Most line managers are promoted because they are good at their job, not because they have the right skills and expertise to manage people.  A good relationship between line managers and their direct reports is a vital building block for employee satisfaction and has a major influence on staff retention. Too often, managers are not given training into how manage staff effectively or given the time to concentrate on that element of the role.  This is especially important for those managing remote workers.  It is vital that a rapport is built with staff who they don’t see every day to make them feel part of the team. This can be done through training or mentoring from other managers who have experienced how to do this successfully.

Make the most of new technology

There are many tools now available to help people stay connected and employers should make the most of these.  It’s easier and cheaper than ever before to talk to people in different locations or even countries.  With Skype or Facetime it’s possible speak face to face as often as is necessary.  Collaboration tools like Slack, make team communications quick and simple.  Remote workers can set up these tools quickly and feel part of the organisation.  Developments in virtual reality could have significant benefits for home workers.  In just a few years they could use it to join meetings as if they were there in person, enabling communications to be slicker and more engaging than a call or video conference.

Effective advance planning

If employees work from home on a regular basis, ensure that all members of the team know where their colleagues will be every week.  Contact details should be circulated so home workers are easy for anyone to reach.  Putting together a weekly plan including where each team member will be, will ensure meetings can scheduled when everyone needed is available and highlight any times when being in the office is absolutely necessary.

Home working can open up possibilities for many employees who feel excluded from the workplace.  There are huge advantages for companies who embrace it and put the right measures in place to ensure home workers can contribute effectively.  To be successful, time and effort needs to be put in to planning, preparations and management.  All indications are that the trend will continue to grow, especially as advances in technology make being in the same place less important, so to attract the best talent, now and in the future, companies should take the time to explore how it can be made to work for their business.

*Elissa Dennis, Marketing & PR consultant, Out Of The Many

As a working mum for the last 10 years, I know the difficulties of juggling a full-time job and raising children.  During that time, I’ve worked in a number of different industries and seen first-hand how companies that manage flexible working effectively are able to tap into the talents of many employees who find the traditional commute and 9 to 5 working hours impossible.