The great home-working debate

Being a business mum can be great, but not every mum is suited to this life. Many are pushed into self-employment because of a lack of affordable childcare and flexible employment.

I would love to see the world of employment become more family-friendly, so that starting a business as a parent is a positive choice and not a last resort. That’s why I took part in The Great Homeworking Debate, which is part of the LoveHate Travel campaign, sponsored by Powwownow. Taking part in the debate were:

Here’s what we discussed:

According to the latest figures from the International Labour Organization, some 300 million people worldwide work from home. One million of them live in the UK.

And yet despite the millions who are already putting paid to the productivity and motivational benefits of alternative ways of working – and clear examples of businesses such as the AA demonstrating home-working employee success stories –  the traditional 9-5 office job is still perceived to be a more legitimate means of making a living.

There is a sense, especially in the world of communications and marketing, that homeworking is popular and widely-accepted. Is this true and are there any potential barriers to uptake?

HL: “Once you have proved you can earn an income, people become more accepting – earning an income outside of the traditional norms is often hard for people to get their heads around.”

ED: “Initially my family was a bit sceptical, but as I’m the main bread winner and working from home people have become more accepting.”

 If it’s difficult to win over friends and loved ones it’s hardly surprising that some bosses also have misgivings. And yet progressive companies such as the AA already have call centre workers who are based at home, with research showing the home-based workers are 36% more efficient than their office-based counterparts.

So why are there still industry reservations?

SB: “Having worked in this way for more than 20 years – I understand the pros and cons of home working. If you have a big family with children it can prove difficult to separate the business and home life – too many distractions. And working from home is unsuitable for certain types of jobs and can mean it’s harder to maintain team spirit. Plus, there is the potential difficulty of managing home workers and monitoring their performance.”

But there must be benefits?

HL: “It’s so nice not to be stuck on the motorway every day, traffic is a major cause of stress and the commuting nightmare has an impact on work morale.”

All our debaters agreed that increased staff motivation thanks to homeworking reduces stress levels further. The material cost savings for businesses are also evident in the reduction of office space costs and utilities; and there are significant productivity gains to be made from fewer interruptions.

They also agreed on the reduction in employee churn, with home-working helping to retain working parents with childcare responsibilities as well as widening the recruitment pool to those who are, for example, disabled and unable to get into the office every day.

HL: “In the case of IT departments, geography no longer plays such a significant role. It is a necessity to get skilled people no matter what the location because they might live in remote regions. Leeds workers can’t easily get to Kent but they can work remotely over the internet.”

Our debaters were unanimous that for employees looking to persuade senior management about the efficacy of home-working, the key is in the results.

ED: “You have to produce good results whether you work for yourself or for a larger company – you also need a team that understands and can utilise modern communication methods and social media.”

SB: “Most jobs for home workers revolve around careers in remote IT or helpdesk work. People tend to start conventionally and then branch out as they get more experience. The government is giving workers the right to ask their employers for flexible hours or home working hours. Employers need to understand it is a massive benefit to the organisation.”

So advances in social media must be beneficial?

ED: “My team of four are located across the UK: Edinburgh, Brighton, Bournemouth and the Midlands. We’ve found it is not important to be face-to-face, through conference calling, IM online management tools and Twitter we can stay in touch all the time.”

So what are the key takeouts?

If you are a business looking to implement a home or flexi working strategy, you should consider:

  • Using local work hubs for your employees to offer a space for the team to get together and fire ideas off one another
  • Placing more trust in the workforce

If you are an employee looking to alter management perceptions, you should consider:

  • Highlighting real-life case studies such as the AA call centre to your senior management to demonstrate benefits such as increased productivity and motivation
  • If you are based in London, the potential travel chaos expected during next year’s Olympics is a very good reason for your senior management to put some serious thought into more flexible working schemes in good time

And should we all be done with offices?

SB: “Home-working is not for everybody, sometimes the home just isn’t suitable; what if the person lives in a flat share, for example. That’s why work hubs are a good idea. I think ultimately businesses should take flexible working more seriously, but they need to have more trust in their work force. Salaries should be based on outputs and objectives, not bums on seats for 7.5 hours a day.”

The Digital Powwow Home-working Debate is available as a podcast on the Love/Hate Travel blog.

2 Replies to “The great home-working debate”

  1. This sounds like an interesting discussion. I work from home on a freelance basis and the companies I work for aren’t bothered about the exact hours I work or how I spend my time the most important thing is that I come up with the right piece of work for them on time and I get the results we’ve agreed on. I’ve found working from home requires a lot of self-motivation and organisation (by nature I’m disorganised) and I look after my three children too with no childcare other than my eldest being at school. Trust is a big issue, I’m lucky that everyone who employs me trusts me. Employers who do this are forward thinking and progressive and those who ignore the potential of homeworkers could be missing out on some good skills.

    1. I agree that companies ignoring homeworkers could be missing out on a lot of talent. At the moment it’s hard to find decent work from home as an employee – I think that most home workers are like us and self-employed/freelance, with all the lack of security and perks that this can bring. If you’re lucky you might be able to convert a standard job into one with some work from home after you’ve had children, but it’s not easy to go out and get work-from-home employment and I’d love to see that change. Some of us happy to be self-employed, but for those who aren’t then badly paid/low skill part time work is often the only other option. Thanks for leaving a comment!

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