Gary Cattermole: Working from home can be a real turn off

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Employee engagement used to be the latest buzz word bandied around HR departments,  now more and more companies have accepted engagement into their company’s DNA and it has created amazing results for many with productivity and profitability up. High-tech companies such as Google has invested phenomenal amounts of money in keeping their employees motivated and enthused about their daily working lives. A wifi enabled bus has been brought in to help employees get to work, whilst fun working environments have been established to create a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment for the business and its workforce to flourish.

In some ways it seems obtuse that these technologically-savvy companies have invested so much capital into their offices when it could be argued many of their employees have the ability to work remotely from home? Thanks to wifi, laptops, tablets, smartphones, webcams etc it has become possible to do business with anyone anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. For years working from home has seemed ideal, staff have saved time and money on laborious commutes, benefited from a better quality of life, and those with children have had the opportunity to fit in the school run to their working day. So why is there a wind of change?

Last year it was widely reported that Yahoo employees had to halt working from home and make their way to offices in a city nearby. The CEO gave no exceptions not even to employees whom worked remotely a couple of days a week. The main thrust behind it was that employees working in this sector can be more inspired, have more creative conversations, be allowed to be more entrepreneurial in their roles if they have one-to-one or group meetings with people in a dynamic environment. Of course this sector relies heavily on ideas and anyone who’s ever tried to brainstorm on their own will no doubt quickly realise it’s a lot more successful if lots of people from a variety of backgrounds join in. Meetings can be orchestrated virtually, but yet, companies such as Yahoo! are still preferring contact to be personal rather than online. At the end of the day we’re all human and not machines. We’re social beings that like to interact, and whilst we’re happy enough checking our Facebook and Twitter in our lunchtimes, the majority of us are not keen on spending all day on our own in a back bedroom with a computer as company.

So, there’s quite a compelling argument for employees to get to the office wherever possible. So is the long term future of home working in jeopardy? It would seem ideal for employees of companies who spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on creating inspiring workplaces to, wherever possible, make the most of the office environment. But not all companies do or strive to offer such workplace environments. Many companies are not as fast paced or reliant upon an entrepreneurial nature with fresh idea generation as Yahoo! and Google. CEOs of ‘everyday’ companies, such as accountancy and legal practices, marketing consultancies etc, need to decide whether their organisation will benefit from home workers. Individual managers also need to realise which roles will be able to function effectively, and which staff will be able to fulfil their duties to their best ability in a home or office environment.

Of course like with any change occurring within a workplace it needs to be carefully managed. Many employees at Yahoo! were most upset when a memo arrived on their desks from the CEO explaining they had to work from an office in a nearby city. For many it meant a return to the daily commute, juggling childcare and a change to their general routine. In the short term Yahoo! will no doubt have seen a sharp drop in staff morale due to the handling of the situation, which is a shame as that’s the opposite of their intentions.

Going forward, home working needs to be carefully considered within the context of the organisation, it’s people, values and behaviours.  If implementing a home working policy, consider the implications to individuals, teams and the organisation and also the fact that some roles, simply can’t be carried out at home. By allowing home working, could you inadvertently disengage others?

  • How to check if your staff are disengaged?
  • Are your staff happy to go the extra mile?
  • Do they skip into work on a Monday morning?
  • Do they come up with fresh ideas to do things differently?
  • Is morale low?
  • Do you have a high turnover of staff?

Gary Cattermole is a Director of leading staff survey provider, www.surveyinitiative.co.uk

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