Home Based Working

Below is a fascinating examination from Spain on Home Based Working with the research having been done prior to the recent Corona Virus lockdown.

It has been produced by Barrie Jackson, originally from the UK but who made his home in Spain some years ago following a highly successful career in senior general management within the pharmaceutical industry. Since then he has run Nexus, an international search consultancy.

Introduction

A few months ago I undertook a survey about Home Based Working (HBW) amongst professionals who habitually work from home a great deal of their time. The survey attempted to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, looking clearly at both points of view from the perspective of employer and employee.

Nevertheless, the opinions expressed in the survey do not reflect the views of those people who have been forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and many with difficult circumstances especially if they have young children around them. Of course the comments are from people who have the kind of job which allows them to work effectively on-line. Clearly any manufacturing or “manual” jobs are generally outside the scope of HBW.

I would like to thank all those people who participated in the survey particularly for their sincerity and honesty in offering their opinions.

Summary

About 30 people of varying nationalities offered their experiences and in general there was a very positive attitude towards HBW and many said that they would find it hard to return to office-based employment in the future. Technological advances and particularly the ease of telecommunication have made HBW far more feasible than 20 years ago. Many expressed concerns that not all companies are open to introducing or allowing HBW and it would be useful if all companies at least made an effort to try it. Having said that not all employees are capable of adapting to HBW and specific training may be necessary.

Results and Comments by the Participants

These can be broken down into 4 main areas – Disadvantages, Advantages, Efficiency and Employer/Company Attitude.

Disadvantages

A basic concept which is vital in HBW is self-discipline. If a person is not self-disciplined he/she can easily be distracted and may become tempted to delay work or not adhere to strict timelines. In this case efficiency is greatly reduced. An important aspect was highlighted in paying attention to the way you dress or personal appearance. It was regarded as a key factor in terms of attitude and self-motivation.

As has been stated before due to technological advantages, communication has been made easier. However, if technical problems arise there are no immediate solutions which otherwise could be resolved quickly if within the office there is an IT department.

Being in a “home office“ environment, the employee is isolated from others and there is no interaction with colleagues except through video-conferences. This reduces the concept of networking and team work and of mutual learning from the experiences of others, including the creation of good working habits. Many of those who participated in the survey expressed missing the social aspects and feeling somewhat “closed in” at home. For this reason it is essential that there is a “physical” meeting at least once a month to maintain team spirit and discuss specific problems face-to-face.

Some believed there was a sensation of “always being available 24/7” especially in multinational companies with varying time zones and the number of hours worked tended to be more than the norm, on many occasions an average of 50-60 hours per week, even when ill. Additionally there was no summer timetable which tends to be the custom in Spain in many companies. There is a sensation of having to work harder to make one’s presence felt and to appear to be more effective.

Through not being in an office environment one can lose out on company culture, branding, information and organisational changes, and the serious possibility of being “forgotten” during decision making or succession planning. There is also the risk of losing inter-departmental synergies. As a manager it becomes very difficult to “supervise” and “control” employees. This was actually expressed by more than one person why HBW was not allowed in some companies for that very reason.

Advantages

There is no doubt that from the replies received from the participants, the vast majority were in favour of HBW whenever it was feasible and many would find it hard to revert to a normal office-based working environment. Efficiency was the key word which was repeated endless times in their comments.

Another key factor which appeared frequently was “flexibility” especially in the fact that you can fix your own schedule and even location. It is well documented that we all have our circadian rhythm (“body clock”) and we work differently depending upon the time of day and amongst other things, thus affecting our efficiency positively or negatively as a result.

Of course in the paragraph about disadvantages and the importance of self-discipline, a well self-disciplined person will be more efficient with HBW because he/she will not have the distractions from co-workers (chit-chat, gossip, etc.) enabling a greater focus on the work in hand. The home environment tends to be quieter during core times, with fewer interruptions (you can even turn your telephone off if you want to!). Aligned with this is the fact that you don’t have to put up with pessimistic/demotivated/annoying colleagues, in today’s world one of those principal “toxic” elements in the working environment. No “smoking breaks” are an advantage for the employer as a smoker will probably continue to smoke a cigarette whilst they are working at home.

There is an enormous saving in TIME for the employee. No commuting (on average 2 hours per day was quoted), which in many cases means more time with the family and the creation of a greater work/life balance. This can also lead to more flexibility for parents who can plan their day around school hours, whilst still continuing to work the hours they select for their work tasks. However a different system must be established during school holidays. No commuting also has a positive effect on health. Reduced stressful driving situations and better sleep patterns through not necessarily having to get up so early.

In many cases HBW can be more economical for the employee. Think about the cost of commuting, buying “smart” clothes, cheaper lunches (unless your company gives you a meal allowance), after work drinks (quite common). The employee can choose to live in a more economical area and not necessarily convenient for the office. And of course HBW has many economic advantages for the employer. In many cases no physical office is necessary so no rental costs, energy savings, probably a reduction in office materials, and many more small ítems (which in some cases will be transferred to the employee) which can add up to huge savings.

Other interesting points which were made by the non-Spanish community particularly was the ability to work in your own language, shorter lunch breaks, and no useless meetings!! Videoconferences tend to be better planned and shorter in length. As time tends to be better utilised it was commented that there was more time for strategic thinking, creativity and the ability to evaluate new business opportunities.

All in all the respondents were very positive about HBW and for those who had a few years’ experience in operating that way, they would find it difficult to return to the traditional office-base model. Although there is no evidence to support the theory, attracting talent may be easier if an employer offers HBW flexibility.

Efficiency

  • Definitely greater efficiency
  • Less distractions
  • No “toxic” elements
  • Can generate new and more effective ways of doing things
  • Healthier
  • More productive meetings
  • Cost-effectiveness elements

Employer/Company Attitude

  • Either strongly for or against HBW – there does not seem to be an intermediate viewpoint
  • In general, younger managers are in favour of HBW and “older” managers strongly against
  • A feeling of losing the ability to supervise or control employees (old-style management)
  • Successful HBW depends totally on TRUST

BARRIE JACKSON

April 2020

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