Many businesses are now considering allowing staff to work from home as a way to reduce costs and to help staff avoid busy roads and overcrowded public transport. But how easy is it to introduce homeworking? We asked homeworking expert Dr John Gundry, director of Knowledge Ability Ltd, for his advice
How easy is it to introduce homeworking to a business?
"A good way to begin is to carry out an informal pilot. Treat this as an opportunity to see what works for your company and learn about homeworking, without blaming anyone if anything goes wrong."
"There is loads of free advice available. The ways2work website is a great place to start."
"A common barrier to homeworking is mistrust of employees. Managers have a tendency to think employees aren't working just because they can't see them. This creates a culture of ‘presenteeism', forcing everyone to come into the office even during periods of difficult travel like during spells of bad weather."
"Get managers and staff together to talk about what work needs doing, when it needs doing, how they will know if it has been done, and what to do if there are problems. This helps build the trust that makes distance working possible."
What sort of technology does it take to make homeworking practical?
"If you're only looking at introducing homeworking for short periods or for a regular one-or-two-days-a week, good email, phone and audio conferencing systems are important."
"Most business email systems can be set up so your staff can send and receive emails remotely. A modern office phone system should allow calls to be redirected as required."
"For longer periods, look at web collaboration tools. These will allow you to hold virtual meetings to tackle more complex topics. You might also benefit from an online discussion forum and central file storage so people can share files from different locations. There are cloud services available to provide these functions."
What sort of companies are best placed to introduce homeworking?
"You need to be focused on outcomes and creating a good working environment. Without that ethos, implementing homeworking is trickier and may involve fundamental changes to your business practices and attitudes. You'll probably need assistance - perhaps external consulting and training."
How do you ensure good communication when people are at home?
"You can push information at homeworking staff through email. But the volume will cause information overload. Online discussion forums are more effective."
"Distribute all the background ‘what people need to know' information and messages in always-accessible discussion forums, perhaps as part of your company intranet. People can pick information up from there when they have the time. Use email for more urgent ‘here's what you need to do' messages."
What pitfalls do you need to watch for?
"Not dealing with the issue of how performance will be measured and not setting expectations with homeworkers about working hours. Homeworkers often find it hard to shut down at the end of the day."
"You need to be conscious of how you're communicating, too. The worst thing a manager can do is send out an email to their team saying: ‘Pity you weren't all in today, but some of us met over lunch and we decided to…' It makes homeworkers feel disengaged, uninformed and not consulted."
"Finally, many businesses don't realise they need to prepare managers and staff for this new way of working. Everyone has difficulties and concerns. If they don't know this is normal, they may feel deficient in some way."
How important is technology to successfully working from home?
"Your business must provide communication technologies appropriate for homeworkers, and must find a way to provide responsive and effective technical support too."
"You need to have this in place from day one, because people's reactions to homeworking will be coloured by their first experiences. And you don't want to give people another opportunity to moan about IT, do you?"