Tech, home workers and daytime TV

There’s been much talk over the past few weeks about flexible working and working from home – the technology is certainly ready – we ask, though, are Welsh businesses?

It’s certainly been a quarter yielding much research into flexible working. Research findings from various studies conclude:

  • 81% of small business owners say flexible hours are key to business success.
  • 39% of UK small business owners would allow employees to work remotely, 20% of UK employees would take a pay cut in favour of flexible working
  • 59% of employees said they would like to work from home
  • 50% of managers say they would allow staff to work flexibly

So why do we see a study by ‘Working Mums’ finding 20% of working mothers had to change jobs because their flexible working requests had been denied? It would appear that the practice is different to the theory when it comes to flexible working.

Some employers wrongly think that if they allow home working, their employees will spend all their time watching daytime TV and catching up on the soaps – however this hasn’t proven to be the case.

Research undertaken thus far indicates that employees who work from home are more, not less productive AND are far happier. They’re obviously never late and less likely to make a claim for work-related injuries, they take less time off sick and don’t have to contend with commuting nightmares. Added to that, office space is expensive and if people work from home, employers don’t need to find them somewhere to sit.

For years, sales professionals, delivery drivers and site workers have worked outside the office, so remote working isn’t perceived as a problem in these roles.

Other roles, such as telephone marketing, software development, admin and secretarial work, are relatively new to working in this way. Once the tech is in place, these arrangements can work well and there are a growing number of businesses embracing flexible working in these areas.

Indeed, talents like content writers and software developers may flourish better when they are in an environment without interruptions.

While every employee is entitled to request flexible working, employers are only required to consider requests reasonably, which is sensible because not all roles are suited to working from home.  How could, say, a receptionist work from home? Or a trial lawyer for that matter, or a waitress or care assistant?

Equal opportunities for all are great, but with the best will in the world, you can’t always re-schedule your business to suit a flexible working request. If a court requires you to be present at 10:00am, you can’t just tell the judge you are working flexi today. Likewise, as a carer, you can’t lift a disabled person over the internet.

For those jobs where it’s possible to work from home, however, the technology exists to make it successful and my message to Welsh businesses is to embrace flexible working. The technology is affordable and always costs less than losing your valuable talent.

In order to work from home, most businesses only need:

  • Communication tools – telephone lines (VOIP and call forwarding technology means you can even be seen to use the same numbers inside or outside work), calendars and email.
  • Web access (most people have this at home these days).
  • Visibility – so people know when you are working from home and when you are off.

Inexpensive software can usually manage all of the above, and a good PC or laptop will frequently manage the hardware aspect (though for some jobs a tablet will suffice).

Nick Soret, head of employment at NatWest Mentor, recently said: “Employers are required to deal with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, or they run risk of being taken to court.”

“But that doesn’t mean it should be feared as a concept and instead should be viewed more as an employee benefit that can be just as beneficial to the company.”

Here at Codel, we’ve seen a real rise in flexible working among our customers in England and staff working flexibly report a better work/home life balance.

Visibility is key so that no matter where people are, they remain a vital part of the team. Our absence management system manages flexible workers, so other team members know when they should be working in the office or at home, keeps track if workers are attending networking or training events, are off sick or are on holiday. Having that visibility isn’t just about managing people who ‘should be working’; it also helps respect boundaries and know when NOT to call!

We’ve put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, so we don’t just support our customers in managing flexible working. We allow our own people to work from home when needed – for example, my head of marketing edits HR News at home one day per week because she struggles with the distractions of the office.

At least to date, we haven’t heard of any home workers skipping off to watch daytime TV – though customers tell tales of office based workers watching daytime TV on tablets! Productivity from our home workers is excellent.

Visibility is ultimately the key because it overcomes the daytime TV fear. Once the visibility issue is sorted, flexible working arrangements thrive and are ultimately successful for both employers and their people.

Wales has a wealth of skilled workers, and the opportunity for flexible working could be the key to keeping them in the region and happy and productive in our businesses.

Adrian Lewis is the commercial director for welsh software developers Codel Software and has been advising businesses on how software can best manage HR challenges for more than 10 years. 

Image credit: Trish Hamme