Jane Hatton: Home Working – Who Benefits?

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From 30th June the law around flexible working changes to include all employees, not just those with children. Flexible working covers a range of options, including working from home. There are obvious benefits to employees in working from home for some or all of the time, and even more so for disabled employees.

A survey summarised in the Microsoft whitepaper, Work without Walls (2012), suggested the following top 10 benefits for employees of working from home:

  1. Work/life balance (60%)
  2. Save fuel (55%)
  3. Avoid traffic (47%)
  4. More productive (45%)
  5. Less distractions (44%)
  6. Eliminate long commute (44%)
  7. Quieter atmosphere (43%)
  8. Less stressful environment (38%)
  9. More time with family (29%)
  10. Environmentally friendly (23%)

These will equally apply to disabled people, and there will also be additional benefits – for example, travelling to and from work can be difficult for some people, and working in open plan offices for others. People with fluctuating conditions can arrange their working hours to accommodate their health needs more easily if they work from home.

So, the benefits for employees are quite obvious. However, some employers are less than enthusiastic. Notably, last year, Yahoo banned all of its workers from home working. Often there is a perception by employers that if people work from home they will be less productive and more difficult to manage.

As an employer, and also a disabled person who works from home, I only employ disabled people who work from home. The advantages I have found include:

A wider talent pool to choose from

One of our employees is a young man with severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He is unable to travel to a place of work because of the energy it would cost him. He is also unable to work for long periods of time at one stretch. These two factors would put many employers off. And yet he works for us as a Data Entry Clerk for two hours a week, split into chunks of half an hour. He is highly conscientious and very accurate, and I couldn’t wish for a more loyal, dependable member of the team. Had I insisted on a traditional working model I wouldn’t have had access to his talent.

Reduced overheads

In a previous business I rented office premises, with all the associated costs such as furnishings, equipment, heat, light, business rates, cleaning costs and so on. With all of our staff working from home I can use the huge savings in overhead costs to offer higher wages and attract better people. Additionally, for a company like ours which only employs disabled staff, the accessibility of the building becomes less of an issue.

Retention

By eliminating the time spent commuting, employees have more time available, meaning a much improved work/life balance. Providing everything else is in place (appropriate communication channels etc.) they are likely to stay in their jobs longer, improving loyalty and retention.

Improved productivity

Many employers fear that employees working from home will be less productive, as it is easier for them to be distracted by daytime television or household chores. However, many studies have demonstrated that people who work from home are on average far more productive than those who don’t. My experience is that working from home tends to mean the work is more results-focused rather than time-focused, which can entail many more hours being worked than intended. I have to encourage staff (and myself) to take regular breaks, and take time away from work altogether.

Environmental benefits

Clearly, with no commuting, the need for transport is greatly reduced. Not having to commute also has advantages over and above the obvious environmental benefits. Sitting in traffic jams, or on crowded trains, buses or tubes can be a very stressful way to begin and end the working day.

For employers thinking of incorporating home working into their flexible working strategies, it will probably be easier than anticipated. For disabled employees it is important that they have access to any reasonable adjustments (e.g. assistive technology) that will help them carry out their tasks. Access to Work (www.gov.uk/access-to-work) will help to identify resources and help towards the costs of providing them.

Other important considerations are communication – it is important that employees feel part of the team, and it is easy for them to feel isolated when working remotely; and performance management – being clear about expectations from both sides.

There are certainly factors to be taken into account when considering home working, but my experience is that the benefits to both the employer and the disabled employee can be immense when the detail is thought through properly, opening up the world of work to a pool of talent previously excluded from it.

Jane Hatton runs Evenbreak – a specialist online job board run by disabled people for disabled people, helping inclusive employers to attract more talented disabled candidates.

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