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Does working from home work?

February 26, 2013

IACCM surveys tell us that many contracts and commercial practitioners work from home. They also confirm that flexibility over location, working hours and conditions are of major importance when selecting or remaining with an employer. It is clear that such benefits significantly reduce the importance of traditional drivers, such as salary.

The cost advantages for an employer are obvious – a major reduction in fixed facilities and their operating expense, the possibility to reduce travel costs by having people located within their territory etc. But are their disadvantages? In particular, do creativity and learning suffer?

That appears to be the conclusion reached by Yahoo, which has announced that by the middle of this year it plans to have all its staff working from office facilities. In an attack on this concept, Jeanne Roue-Taylor points to the irony of its adoption by a web-based company that advocates remote working.

I do have some sympathy with Yahoo. it does seem to me that the interchange of ideas and experiences suffers in a virtual environment. Perhaps if we are working within a dedicated development team, that may not be the case. But for individuals who are really busy performing their daily tasks, the casual conversations that occur in a workplace become a luxury. Cross-learning and experience exchange become far harder to achieve.

Perhaps the answer depends in part on the nature of work being performed. It would be interesting to see whether there is any correlation between the extent of home-working and the extent of innovation within the business sector.

  1. esther permalink

    I started working in a rigid office hours environment, then partial flexibility was introduce by allowing employees come in as late as half hour, but this must have approval by your line manager. Then when our company merge with another MNC, it was the total other extreme whereby it was total flexi-hours and focus on work-life-balance. However most times, work is much more than life itself.
    I found during the peak period where i was a contract manager, handling up to 5-6 bids at a time, and going in for several critical negotiations with customers, it was still very much manageable for me, because i know the way i manage my time was in my hands, and i don’t have to worry about my boss breathing down my neck, because i’m not seen at the office at a prescriptive time and he trusted me that even i’m not seen, i;m contactable and i will always deliver even before deadlines.

    However when work-load decreases, my work productivity shrink to almost nil, because of the flexibility and no time pressure. Therefore the flexibility was really much appreciated during critical peak periods. However it’s really up to an individual to be responsible in maximizing his time.

    Now i’ve changed company (with much reluctance in the beginning to trade-off flexibility hours), however i’ve adapted back to rigid hours, and i can see both sides have its pros and cons for employees.

    “With great Flexibility, comes greater responsibility”

  2. The people that I spoke to before I started working from home indicated how difficult it was to stay motivated and productive when working from home. After doing it now for a year I can say that it certainly has its challenges but it also has a lot of benefits.
    My workplace makes full use of collaboration tools like SharePoint and Lync and as working in the office requires booking a desk two weeks in advance you can find yourself sat working with complete strangers and not speaking to people any more than you would at home. However, my team does manage to book a block of desks in the same location every day and so this helps to ensure that we do end up sat together and although we don’t interact hugely it does make a difference just being in the office and working but being able to overhear other human conversation, ask a question quickly over the desk or just have a chat or exorcise a gripe.
    I work from home 3 days a week and commute to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays and its probably the optimal mix because I look forward to both going to the office and the days when I am working from home and the start and end to the week are an easier transition.
    I think everyone working in an office isn’t needed to be there all 5 days a week and with people’s busy lives and stressful commutes it really helps to make people’s working lives less of an ordeal and allows them to put on some laundry, receive mail order items and grocery deliveries and cover some of the other minor household admin whilst taking a break from their laptop screens.
    Its also helped to save the environment a little as previously myself and my partner had cars for our commuting but now I can take public transport to the office and so we could sell both our old cars and get one more modern and economical car instead.

    In conclusion it doesn’t work for every job and every person but I think having the flexibility and the benefits it does bring, its definitely worked to my advantage.

  3. Charles Rear permalink

    I think the comments sum it up very well. I first started working from home about ten years ago and find no negative effects, when busy. However when not busy it is easy to become isolated; the more so if one changes employer, knowing no one at day 1. However, as Jo says, is the isolation any greater than going to an office and sitting in a hot desk area with colleagues whose work is entirely unrelated to one’s own? The closure of offices that technology enables can mean the commute to the nearest office can be 100 miles! One does have to ‘put oneself about’ but, in the world of ‘virtual teams’, it would be perverse to commute this distance just to say ‘hello’. While Yahoo’s measure may seem excessive, I think companies need to introduce measures to maintain their employees engagement with and attachment to their employers, and reaping the reward of ‘cross-learning’. Knowledge Management is notoriously difficult and is made harder by physical separation of people. Perhaps firms should spend a little of what they’ve saved in fixed costs to get people together sometimes.

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