If you have been browsing through job boards recently you might have been seduced by the seeming appeal of all the working from home opportunities. The prospect of not having to face your boss every morning coupled with a giant mug of smooth coffee brewed in your favourite coffee maker may just tip the scales in favour of such a role. Working from home (WFH) appears to be the perfect employee engagement booster, and a solution to help manage the demands of both family and work life.
Due to rapidly progressing technological changes, such as the ubiquity of cloud computing which facilitating seamless communication, and remote access to work documents and data, experts are positive that these roles will soon cease to be a rarity. This trend is already reflected in the numbers from the Office for National Statistics, indicating that the population of WFH employees reached over 4 million in 2015.
But a recent study from LSE has shown that although the obvious advantages might suggest flexi-time works for the benefit of us all, this only lasts through the initial honeymoon period. WFH employees working exclusively from their homes were just as likely to grumble about their work as their office counterparts. However, the complaints were far more serious than the back problems they were developing from using the kitchen table for a desk.
As with anything that sounds a little too good to be true, it’s only reasonable to be cautious of the flexi-time’s overwhelmingly positive image. We have compiled a list of the most significant advantages and disadvantages to help you decide if ‘work from home jobs’ are the right thing to introduce to your company.
What disadvantages of WFH should employers be aware of?
Research conducted by LSE has shown that even when the majority of employees choose to swap office desks for the comfort of their own homes (due to reasons like family obligations, avoiding a long commute, or reducing the overall costs associated with working in an office), they still experience adverse effects. In the study, it took the form of reduced productivity and an overall reduction with job satisfaction.
Among those who have committed themselves to fully working from home, professional isolation became one of the main problems. More than 60 % of the WFH employees who took the survey thought that it was important to visit the office and catch up socially with colleagues. Being that cut off from an office environment, without potentially cathartic rants, left employees without many options when it came to boosting productivity.
This isolation typically leads to being forced to solve problems in silence or offloading work disappointments on your partner or housemate, neither of which seem to restore the promised work-life balance. But the red flag is raised at the employers who facilitate flexi-work equally.
According to Dr Esther Canonico, who authored the LSE research, not being physically present in the office might also weaken workers’ sense of an attachment to an organisation; in the long run, this will likely negatively affect their commitment altogether. With flexible working becoming largely perceived as an entitlement, especially among the younger generation, employees are no longer feeling they need to reciprocate and give more to their companies, which in some instances leads to employees taking advantage of their situation. Not to mention the reduction in the typical increase of productivity that has usually been observed among those who were given permission to regulate their own working hours.
Which WFH benefits can make up for the disadvantages?
Although the study provides a useful glimpse into the possible future, where the majority of roles will have to assume at least an element of remote working, and acknowledges drawbacks that non-standard models of work might have, care must be taken so as not to dismiss the concept as a whole.
Companies will not, and cannot, resign the idea of providing their workers with the opportunity to work remotely, since there is tangible evidence it improves many sides of business operations, including staff retention, talent acquisition, and most importantly, overall employee wellbeing, with workers declaring higher job satisfaction and less work-related stress.
Introducing non-standard ways of working is also vital from the financial perspective. Whether it’s filling a tank with petrol or buying monthly travelcards, by choosing to work from home employees can save money on a range of costs associated with working in an office; meanwhile, employers can cut down the utility costs and save a fortune on renting the office space by getting a virtual address.
Dr. Canonico further posits that working from home can still be effective for both employees and organisations, especially if the number of days employees are out of the office doesn’t exceed 3 days. This and other restrictions, such as the need for continuous reporting or compulsory attendance of internal and client meetings, might be combined to form flexible working policies that will help establish a golden mean, allowing both parties to sustain close, professional relationships.