Agile working is where companies offer their employees a variety of work settings to choose from, including working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that most office workers can do this very successfully. So why, now that things are beginning to return to normality, are some businesses insisting their staff come back into the office full time?
For years, an employee’s productivity has been measured by the amount of time they spend sitting at a desk in an office. Then along came the pandemic. All of a sudden many of us were suddenly being asked to do our jobs from our homes, something previously often accompanied by sarcastic air quotes (oh, she’s “working from home” today).
Thankfully, this has shown us that employees can be trusted to do their work from home – in fact, many people are more productive without the drudgery of a daily commute and being stuck in an office all day. And even small companies managed to get the technology sorted fairly quickly and inexpensively. But many organisations are still telling us they now want all their staff back on-site full time – something which could actually cause more damage to their businesses than they realise.
Here are some of the reasons that, if you can, you should be offering some working from home and/or agile working options to all your office-based staff. (Don’t forget that employees who’ve worked for you for 26 weeks or more have a statutory right to ask for flexible working arrangements like home working – and you have to seriously consider these requests.)
Your people will be happier and more productive
Working from home can make staff more productive. There are generally fewer interruptions at home than in an office environment, so they get more done. They take less time off sick or on holiday. Often they work longer hours, especially if they’re saving time by not having to commute. And because they feel trusted, and that they have a greater degree of control over their own workloads, they feel more loyalty towards their employer. As James Loduca, director of global inclusion and diversity at Twitter, puts it: ‘Work from anywhere is a tool to deepen, not reduce, trust across teams.’
All of this improves employee engagement – and engaged employees do their best work, every day, wherever they are.
You’ll get better-qualified candidates applying for work
If you offer people the option to work from home or elsewhere, you get access to a much larger pool of people – because geographical boundaries no longer apply. You’ll also attract the best calibre of candidates. That’s because as agile working becomes the norm, people won’t even bother applying for jobs at organisations that won’t let them work the way they want to. According to a 2020 poll by the BBC, 50 of the UK’s biggest employers have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future. So businesses who don’t consider offering agile working are going to struggle to recruit the best talent in the job market.
It’ll save you money on office costs
Less people on site means you can save money on office space and supplies, rent, utility bills and so on. When people do come into the office, you can introduce hot-desking and provide more breakout spaces for collaborative working, rather than sticking with a traditional one-desk-per-employee model. Downsizing will also help you reduce your company’s carbon footprint – another thing that potential employees look for in a company before deciding whether to apply for a post.
You can expand your business
Employees working from home are often more likely to be willing to work flexible hours, for example, evenings or weekends. This could be useful if you want to work across different time zones, or just extend your opening hours.
How to get home working right as an employer
So now you know why offering agile working is a must for modern businesses. But it’s not just a case of immediately telling your staff they don’t need to come into the office tomorrow. Here are some ways to make sure you get agile working right for everyone involved.
- Have a policy: Every business has different needs, so deciding who does and doesn’t need to be in the office is likely to come down to individuals. But you should still have some kind of agile-working policy in place so everyone knows what the boundaries are. This will also help if you then ask line managers to decide whether their employees can work flexibly – some people are naturally anti-working from home, which can lead to teams being treated differently. A policy should help stop this from happening.
- Offer training: Managers are likely to need training on how to manage employees who aren’t in the office all the time – for example, how to check their people are performing without depending on the amount of hours they’ve worked. And staff will need training on how to manage their work-life balance – flexible working can blur the boundaries around working hours and sickness time which can impact negatively on employees’ health. So you’ll need to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them. Encouraging open conversation is a must.
- Keep the lines of communication open: Make sure your home workers don’t feel like you’ve forgotten about them. Get regular video meetings in place – the pandemic’s shown us that the technology works (mostly). You’ll need to make sure everyone knows how to use the tech to stay in touch as well. Getting teams together for a face-to-face once a week or month (as long as that’s practical) is a good idea too.
- Don’t forget your health and safety requirements. You have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as you do for those in the office. That includes risk assessments for office set-ups and making sure you maintain any electrical equipment you give them (like laptops). The Health & Safety Executive has some good advice about this on their website.
Working away from the office isn’t for everyone – even if they can do it, some people simply prefer going to a workplace every day. But it certainly doesn’t decrease productivity and should no longer be seen as a soft option or, worse still, an excuse for ‘skiving off’. If you’re able to offer your employees some degree of flexibility in this area you absolutely should – otherwise you could find yourself struggling to recruit and retain the talent you need to run a successful business.
Need some help?
Feel free to contact us if you’d like some help or advice about recruiting and training remote workers.