So many Americans are keen to work from home that one in four of them would happily take a pay cut to do so, according to Sara Sutton Fell, founder of US listings firm Flex Jobs – a website that specialises in flexible-working opportunities. Meanwhile, she noted, blue-chip firms such as Apple, Amazon and Oracle are warming more and more to the productivity benefits of allowing their employees to work from home – and especially the potential to save $10,000 per employee, per year in costs.
However, she pointed out, there’s still a stigma attached to home working, with those who choose this option often thought to be sitting around in their pyjamas most of the time and achieving less than they would amid the cut and thrust of the office. The Harvard Business Review has also picked up on this issue, with Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom saying: “Some people are deeply sceptical about [home working]. They refer to it as ‘shirking from home’ or ‘working remotely, remotely working’. They think it means goofing off and watching cartoons.”
How can bosses and staff work together to challenge this stereotypical view that home working automatically means dodging tasks and responsibilities?
The Institute of Leadership and Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “What sort of psychological contract is it when we can only trust people if we can see them? If they’re doing terrific work when we can see them, why may they not be doing it just as well when they’re somewhere else? It says a lot about organisational cultures when firms are so sceptical of remote and flexible working that they seem to think presenteeism is indicative of contribution – rather than judging staff purely on their output.”
Cooper notes: “A workforce that needs to be watched and monitored in this way – because that’s what we’re really talking about here – is very unlikely to be a creative and innovative one. However, people do come to work for social reasons, and neuroscience tells us that staff benefit from their interactions with others. So, amid a more welcoming attitude to home working, managers and leaders must take active steps to ensure that people still feel part of teams – and that people who work at home are not just viewed as a collection of pieceworkers, chipping away in isolation.
“Although there are digital enablers or facilitators – such as Skype, and other teleconferencing platforms – it’s not enough just to know that they exist. You have to implement an active policy for using them, and build in the required time. This is very much a wellbeing issue: when people come into the office, they give off signs. A good leader or manager would be able to notice difference in those signs, and intervene if necessary. While it may be slightly more difficult to pick that up when people are working from home, they’ll still be there – either in the form of missed deadlines, for example, or a less enthusiastic voice during a teleconference of phone call.”
Cooper adds: “All of our research – whether it’s with younger or older workers – suggests that people prize the autonomy that flexible working brings, and that it isn’t just about the ability to combine work with caring responsibilities. It’s also about being able to blend work with other life events and activities, thereby improving work-life balance. If you have a job that works for you – where you’re getting not just the social interaction and stimulus from the work itself, but are also able to fulfil hopes and ambitions in other areas of your life – then you’re going to be much more loyal to that employer, and far more inclined to go that extra mile for them.
“So, the short answer to this is that if you trust people only when you can see them, what does that say about you?”
For further thoughts on how to unlock creativity within meetings, check out this learning item from the Institute