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Winter's Coming - A Plea to Managers

by Nicola A Payne

posted in Business

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As I write this, I'm fortunate enough to be sat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, looking at the sun outside and still wearing my pyjamas as I work.
I know however, that my pleasure will come to an abrupt end very shortly as I've just read the 'Traffic and Weather' update in the Somerset gazette. It is littered with incidences of traffic congestion and warns of impending heavy rain.
I am fortunate that the company I work with allows me to work from home - not all the time, but certainly for a fair portion of my working week. This means that I don't have to navigate heavy traffic and neither am I obligated to dart from my car, trying to protect my work things from the rain, perhaps slipping on ice as I do so (which conjures a particularly mortifying memory as I write). Unfortunately however, many people have to deal with these challenges twice a day, day in day out throughout our long lasting cold and wet periods.
I live in the South West which is beautiful. I've had homes in both Dorset and Somerset and love this part of the world no end. Admittedly, however, when required to travel to the office every day, I never found Dorset or Somerset beautiful when it was raining or snowing. I would curse the roads, the weather and traffic queues when trying to get to the office and would spend the next half an hour commiserating with colleagues when they relayed their own stories.
So, I ask, why can more employers not give their employees a break and let them spend time working from home? I know this isn't possible for everyone - a surgeon working out of his dining room wouldn't go down well, but there are lots of office employees who could easily make use of remote working tools and work from home; making them more productive and putting them in a positive frame of mind.
The benefits for companies are huge:
• By having 'non-essential' office attendees work from home, businesses can reduce their office costs, particularly if office space is managed in a hot desk capacity which would enable staff to attend the office on a less frequent basis whilst still retaining relationships with their colleagues
• Making use of remote workers means that businesses have a larger talent pool to choose from which is not restricted by geographical boundaries
• It is more environmentally friendly and staff are able to save on fuel or travel costs
• Staff exposed to less stress are more productive and engaged
• Staff retention is enhanced as the benefits of this arrangement are not likely to be given up easily
Many employers are concerned that their staff may not be working when they are at home and that staff productivity will be reduced. Admittedly, I'm one of the guilty ones who has left my desk to put on the washing, maybe also loaded the dishwasher and possibly put the vacuum around during core working hours (OK, it's possible that I've even watched ten minutes of Jeremy Kyle here and there), but and this is a huge but, I typically work through lunch breaks, I often work well after my office hours finish and I'm not averse to answering emails in the evening. Additionally, I rarely, if ever, fail to meet my objectives.
'Time out' during the day is also a feature of office based staff. As a manager in my most recent role, I would often walk in to the work space and see staff discreetly putting their mobiles back on their desk after texting a friend, people would send each other non-work related emails, I'd sometimes see Facebook open and we had individuals who spent quite a bit of time outside smoking. This may sound like an office full of people taking the mickey, but it wasn't. The staff worked extremely hard in between these personal distractions, our turnover was fantastic, customer retention was sky high and we rarely had complaints to deal with. Additionally, we had periods in which individuals stayed late to complete work. We never enforced this expectation but staff would do it as they were committed to the company and our clients.
So, my point is that staff will take time out from their day regardless of whether they are home based or office based; some are just better at hiding it from managers than others. As such, employers who fear the loss of productivity need to be strict in putting work objectives and metrics in place for staff. This is an essential management need regardless of whether or not a staff member works remotely. If the staff member delivers on their objectives and does so well, then does it matter if they do the odd chore or pop to the shops?
If team bonding and networking is a concern then employers should be strict in diarising team building sessions and ensure that events such as external training sessions are also used as a networking opportunity by sending select staff.
Managers who are still apprehensive at the prospect of making this transition should consider doing so on a trial basis. If it doesn't work then there's nothing lost but I'm more than confident that they will be converted to the financial and emotional benefits of remote working in no time.
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