If you’re reading this blog after a tedious rush-hour commute into the office, you’ll be familiar with that nagging sense of wasted endeavour. Staring at stationary buses or huddling next to strangers on a packed train represents an expensive and inefficient use of time – time that could be utilised far more productively if your home doubled as a place of work.
Home working is big business nowadays, and an estimated 15% of UK staff are home-based. Not only do they avoid congested roads and overcrowded public transport ten times a week, but they gain an average of 540 extra minutes in free time. That’s nine additional hours per employee, per week. Those numbers soon add up on a national scale, particularly when you consider how many jobs don’t really need to be based in centralised offices any more…
In the age of the cloud, it’s easy to work from home efficiently and effectively. Google Docs and Office 365 ensure documents can be edited from anywhere by anyone who requires access, while packages such as Slack offer a single point of contact for all documentation and correspondence pertaining to a particular project. Video conferencing has come into its own thanks to Zoom and Skype, with social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger increasingly being used for document transfers. We’re all familiar with emailing people at the next desk, which is hardly an efficient use of instant global communications.
Of course, being an efficient home worker requires an efficient home workspace. Professionalism is hard to achieve while balancing an iPad on the arm of a sofa for eight hours a day. A desk and ergonomic chair are essential, along with a desktop/laptop computer plus an external 104-key keyboard. A large monitor must be positioned at eye level to avoid the neck strain that can come from peering at a laptop screen, and any workstation should be positioned to attract plentiful daylight or be equipped with full spectrum lighting.
Home working also demands discipline – that is, to keep the TV off, leave the biscuit tin alone, and to avoid distractions like household chores or childcare. Many home-based employees demonstrate that discipline by contributing more hours than they’re contracted for, often dedicating part of their former commuting time to extra work. Employers can easily identify this heightened productivity through timesheets or project management, although staff should endeavour to maintain clear distinctions between work time and personal time. Some employees like leaving work concerns behind at the office, though the BlackBerry-driven push email age has already blurred the boundaries between our working lives and personal lives.
From an employer’s perspective, home-based staff are often more content and loyal. The cost savings from not commuting make them better off, and employees who feel trusted to work remotely will be more likely to give their all. Since home working is a privilege they might not receive elsewhere, there’s less risk of them resigning, which would inevitably trigger time-consuming recruitment tasks.
Other advantages for bosses include cost savings from having smaller offices with less workspace, and no unexpected productivity dips when bad weather or transport issues prevent staff reaching the office. Any former commuting time dedicated to extra work represents free labour, and productivity in the mornings will generally be higher among people who haven’t had a stressful or lengthy commute. With the right safeguards, home working can benefit everyone from accountants and HR personnel to the staff themselves.