Is working from home really the future of work?
With Corona virus wreaking havoc across the global economy many businesses are rushing to provide employees with the ability to work from home. With faster broadband and clever technology paving the way; will working remotely be the new norm or will this exercise reveal how important face to face collaboration and the human interaction can be for workers?
In the UK, the number of people working from home has increased steeply over the last decade, with more than 1.54 million individuals now working from home as their main source of employment. This is almost double the figure of ten years ago (884,000), according to the ONS Labour Force Survey.
When factoring this in with the fact that 83% of UK employees would like the opportunity to work from home, it looks as if this trend is only set to continue. So, is working from home the future of work?
The future of work: benefits of working from home
Those that see working from home as the future of work point to evidence that these employees produce better results than their traditional counterparts. Recent research from Gallup, for instance, notes that workers who spend around three to four days of the week working offsite are substantially more engaged in their jobs than traditional counterparts.
The proliferation of the internet of things (IOT) is allowing companies to produce products and services that are making it easier for remote workers to plug directly into their workspace from home. In addition to this, from a communications standpoint, having access to Skype, WhatsApp, and video conferencing apps means workers can stay in touch with onsite teams wherever they are.
Currently nearly 10% of commuters spent 90 minutes or more travelling each way to get to work — with the number of ‘extreme commuters’ now reaching 1,840,000 in the UK. With remote employees able to spend this time engaged with work-related tasks, many have claimed that productivity and work life balance have increased as a result.
Access to a wider pool of applicants
Offering the ability to work from home can potentially give businesses a far larger access to different talent pools, including disabled workers, working mothers, and any individual that cannot subscribe to a standard working schedule. This will help firms more easily plug talent gaps and reap the benefits of diversity.
However, there are a number of potential drawbacks for workers and businesses:
Lack of visibility
Not ‘being seen in the office’ could potentially affect a person's chances of promotion, result in a smaller pay rise than office-based peers and lower performance evaluations, according to research by the London Business School and the University of California. The study cited the importance of ‘passive face time’, and that being in the office, regardless of productivity, can boost a workers chance of success.
Lack of communication or collaboration
Many companies reject working from home due to the lack of communication or collaboration between workers. Separated from office based colleagues, home workers may miss out on a lot of casual collaboration that happens in an office. Whether it’s picking up on the best practices of colleagues or spur-of-the-moment brainstorming sessions, a lot of this is lost when working from home, even with the most up to date remote communication technology.
In fact, Yahoo banned its staff from ‘remote’ working for this very reason, with a company email stating that ‘some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.’
Loneliness and mental health concerns
Human beings are inherently social animals and generally thrive when working together in groups. Working from home for long periods of time, can be lonely and when compounded by other more personal issues, can lead to mental health problems as employees start to miss out on the human to human interaction and social networks that come with working in a traditional office.
Security and concerns
There can be added security concerns with a fluid workforce, especially if a business deals with sensitive information. Data theft by employees, both remote and co-located, is becoming more common, with one study from the Ponemon Institute, a Tucson based research group, suggesting that nearly 60 percent of employees who quit a job or are asked to leave are stealing company data, most commonly including email lists, customer contact lists, and employee records.
Talent is king
While the jury may be out on whether working from home is the future of work, it’s clear that the trend is picking up speed. Despite concerns for businesses and workers, people are still selecting the practice in record numbers.
It’s unclear how working from home will develop in the future, but what will remain essential for businesses now and going forward is talent. With the right people in place, companies will flourish regardless of where their employees are working from.