Home working: the future of flexible working?

30 October, 2018

Recent advancements in technology, coupled with continuous developments in cloud computing and access to internet connection almost anywhere and at any time, have contributed to the major shift in working patterns that has been taking place over the last decade. The number of people working the standardised hours of 9-5 is decreasing significantly, whilst flexible working is becoming increasingly popular. More companies are now offering flexible working as an attractive job perk, including offering flexi-time hours, compressed workweeks, the option to work in ‘workhubs’ and in some cases, the option to work from home.

‘Millennials’ are now the nation’s largest generation in the workforce and workplace flexibility, including the option to work from home, has become a top priority for these workers. This generation has been born into a constantly connected world; a world in which they are rarely far away from internet access via their computers, tablets or smartphones. This new generation brings new expectations; they are fully aware that the majority of their work is carried out online and are therefore raising important questions regarding why we are all still confined to working in an office at set office hours, when this is no longer a necessity. In many cases, these restrictions are in fact a hindrance, as we are having to travel to work during the busiest times of the day and work hours that in many cases do not fit in accordance with our daily schedules. The younger generations are not alone in this; older workers are also demanding home working as it enables the growing number of workers who are delaying their retirement to improve their work life balance.

The benefits of home working are numerous; improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, improved employee retention and an increased talent pool to consider when recruiting. With regards to employee well-being, in general those who work from home report feeling happier and healthier; perhaps correlated to the fact they have more time and flexibility to schedule necessary doctor’s appointments and go to the gym. They also report reduced stress levels which may be linked to the reduction or end to their daily commute to work. As a commuter, myself who has been severely affected by the ongoing train delays, revisions and cancellations on a daily basis, I can understand why working from home would be hugely beneficial for both employers and employees; not only through having more time to spend working, but also through monetary savings and employee well-being. Shockingly, research has found that UK workers waste over 4.5 million hours per day commuting; a costly waste of time and productivity on a problem that could be easily rectified.

Some organisations are reluctant to offer home working to their employees, partly due to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality some managers possess, where if they cannot physically see their employees working, they may doubt whether work is being done. This highlights an issue of lack of trust and raises the question, if businesses cannot trust their employees to work independently at home then surely they shouldn’t be trusted with other information, such as confidential data and financial details? More importantly, if businesses do not trust their employees, why did they decide to hire them in the first place?

Additional concerns include the difficulty associated with managing and communicating with team members working at differing locations, employee’s reporting feelings of isolation and a lack of team spirit and morale. Indeed, these are all possible problems. However, they can all be easily managed by implementing flexible working or home working, gradually or as part of a schedule. Home working does not have to be all or nothing; a typical week could involve working in the office for three days a week, whilst working from home for the remaining two days. This type of schedule allows for spontaneous interaction with colleagues and allocated time for necessary meetings, but also some independent and focused productivity too. This method would be a great starting point for companies considering offering flexible working to their employees through taking the form of a trial, enabling them to evaluate productivity levels and other relevant criteria before implementing change.  Offering flexible and remote working may be not possible for all companies but for those that can operate with employees working remotely, it is a trial that may prove to be hugely valuable.

The modern workforce is collaborative with multi-generations with differing communication preferences; however, something that remains consistent throughout all workers, regardless of their age, industry, role or individual preferences, is that they value choice and they value flexibility. Organisations are now recognising this and attitudes towards home working and flexible working as a whole, are changing. For many companies, the future is flexible and those that do not recognise that the world is changing and adapt accordingly face a very real risk of being left behind.

From a recruitment perspective, this is a necessary step to take in order to keep up with the race to attract and retain the most effective workforce. As the younger generations continue to move into the workforce, understanding what younger workers desire is a top priority for many recruiters and hiring managers seeking to build a firm workforce for the future. The remote workforce, specifically those wanting to work from home, is expected to grow significantly in the next decade and employers need to be prepared for this.