Working remotely – how flexible is too flexible?
The recent teacher strikes saw parents the length of the country juggling kids and work commitments. Many employers will have been sympathetic to the cause, allowing their employees to work from home where possible and this kind of flexibility can be invaluable in maintaining productivity and staff loyalty.
With advances in technology, working from home is becoming more and more common – and easier than ever. Whether your team is dispersed across the city or across the globe, tools such as video conferencing and the omnipresent ‘cloud’ cross geographical divides.
But just because you can, should you?
Managing a flexible workforce can be a balancing act. Whether or not it’s a fit for your business will depend on a number of factors, not least of all the type of work you do. A good place to start is to weigh up the pros and cons.
If you reduce the size of your core, office-based team, you can reduce the costs of running an office, including overheads like rent, computers, phones, electricity, heating and air conditioning.
A ground-breaking experiment by Stanford University found that people who work from home are more productive than people who work in an office. The remote workers in the study took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and took less time off. They said they found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.
Improve retention rates
The same two-year study found a 50 per cent decrease in attrition. Allowing workers the flexibility to work around things like sick days and school holidays can increase their loyalty, and make you a more attractive employer than your competitors.
A good work-life balance results in happier employees, who are less stressed, and therefore less prone to illness and more motivated.
Increase your reach
Allowing people to work remotely instantly widens the talent pool. It means you can draw on skills outside your geographical location.
Remote working is based on trust. The reality is that some people will perform well remotely and others won’t. But the bottom line is you have to start from a position of trust. Constantly ‘checking up’ on an employee is not constructive for either of you. If you don’t feel you can trust an employee to work from home, it may not be the right choice.
Remote workers who use their own laptops and phones and work on unsecured networks can pose a risk. Their antivirus software may not be stringent enough and could leave your business open to attack. Having a remote work security policy in place and providing cyber security education can help to mitigate this risk.
While it’s easy to get side-tracked in the office by overenthusiastic co-workers, working from home comes with its own set of distractions. Like that pile of washing that needs to be hung out, or the dog insisting on a mid-afternoon walk. For those prone to ‘domestic distraction’, it might be better to make a clean break between work and home.
Less face-to-face time
As much as technology has advanced, as humans we are social beings and there’s nothing like being in the same room for team bonding, brainstorming and idea sharing. Scheduling in regular face-to-face meetings between remote workers can be beneficial for both relationship-building and getting results.
In summary, there’s no rule book when it comes to working remotely. To a large degree it comes down to intuition and output. It can be beneficial for both employer and employee, but if something doesn’t feel right, or you aren’t getting the results you want, it might be time to rethink how ‘flexible’ you make your workforce.