As the economy in Ontario slows down in 2012, a new dimension is being added to home working.
Some organizations are not in a position to raise pay, and since the beginning of the year an increasing number of headlines about pay freezes and reduced hours have become commonplace. However, many employees can be motivated by working from home. If offered to everyone, it can be a cost-effective way of retaining key talent and ensuring that levels of engagement remain high.
Working from home is not designed just for employees with family responsibilities; it can be just as effective for sports-minded individuals who want to be able to train or those with hobbies because it saves time. Telecommuting saves the cost and time of real commuting. Promoting working from home for all staff for at least one day a week can result in reduced overheads for employers. And there other benefits too:
- Increased productivity – employees may get distracted less. While they would be surrounded by the comforts of home and some may indeed be tempted to turn on the TV or play with their kids/pets, others may thrive away from the constant interruptions that exist in any office environment.
- Reduced absence – someone with a contagious illness such as a cold is less likely to infect colleagues.
- Cut the costs of premises – less space is needed, with fewer desks and chairs.
- Increased loyalty – creating a home working environment that fits with childcare or eldercare responsibilities is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, thus minimizing the possibility of attrition.
- Slash the amount of time spent in meetings – a national law firm now holds meetings in Second Life, the social networking website.
- Eliminates geographic constraints – employers based in the less than attractive geographic locations of Ontario may encounter skills shortages, and offer home working to remove the need to live in the area.
- Extended vacations – providing the opportunity to work remotely in what may be a quiet time of year may lead to increased commitment in the future.
- Improved chance of parents returning to work – providing a genuine edge when seeking new recruits over the competition.
- Longer hours – employees may spend time working that they would normally spend commuting and there is the chance of optional overtime such as pregnant employees making up hours spent at ante-natal classes.
- Improved chance of attracting people with a disability – ensuring that the organization becomes a more diverse employer and more able to satisfy the needs of disabled clients or customers.
- Reduced carbon footprint – organizations that strive to be green can demonstrate their environmental credentials by reducing commuting and putting fewer vehicles on the road.[/listdot]
However it is important to consider the following issues:
- Managing people from a distance can be a challenge – it may be tempting to check up on home workers by telephone, email or a ‘drive-by’. However, these checks may end up leaving employees disenchanted with a process originally designed to engage. It may be wiser to invest in some remote time and attendance software, or programs that enable you to check what your remote workers are up to in a less intrusive manner.
- Trusting employees to undertake their work – certain cultural barriers may need to be overcome. Some workers won’t be used to the idea, and some roles may not be suited to it. People may interpret the move as a way of edging them out, whilst others may feel aggrieved if their colleagues enjoy the benefits of flexible working while they can’t.
- Managing employee’s output as opposed to input – judging people by quantifiable measures can be easier for a salesperson than a customer services executive, looking at what value they add rather than what hours they work.
- Respecting employee’s private time – lunch is still lunch.
- Work-life balance – burnout can still occur because the hours get blurred and some home workers end up working too hard, particularly at the moment when our clients report an increase in “presenteeism” even when workloads are reducing.
- Job insecurity – in these days of layoffs and downsizing home workers can feel vulnerable as they are not ‘in the line of fire’.
- Adopting different communication methods – it may be necessary to set up a webcam, broadband, Skype, data card for internet access etc.
- Data security – in our experience we recommend a virtual private network (VPN) that can’t be hacked, a hosted service, strong firewalls and software that encrypts the hard drive. While these services sound expensive, compare these costs to those that would be incurred if you lost your entire client list or information databases to hackers.
- Working hours and handbooks – contracts and handbooks may need to be amended, whilst timesheets may need to be provided if there is time and attendance software involved. Disciplinary rules around dress code and appearance may need to be revised.
- Job descriptions and person specifications – may need to be altered to reflect revised duties and responsibilities for home workers.
- Reward – should employees benefit from a subsidized restaurant, meal allowance or luncheon vouchers then a sum commensurate with the amount involved may need to be provided. A TTC or Metrolinx pass may need to be removed or amended. In addition, the figures involved with overtime or shift pay may need to be amended, as will the bonuses paid for team working where the home worker is no longer working as part of that team. A job evaluation may need to take place to ensure there are no issues around gradings and equal pay.
- Trade unions – home workers need to have equal rights in terms of union membership.[/listdot]
Certain individuals will not be able to adjust to home working. They miss the bouncing of ideas off others, ‘water cooler moments’ and may struggle with IT issues or motivation. One size does not fit all or all jobs, but making home working available is guaranteed to improve the employer’s attractiveness to both new and existing employees. To measure the effectiveness, consider an employee satisfaction survey that calculates the levels of absenteeism and attrition rate before and after its introduction.
In these testing, most organizations seek cost savings without really considering how their actions will affect their employer brand and reputation. Flexible working provisions can mean that you can save your team, department or organization a few dollars and simultaneously make you a more attractive place to work.