Almost a fifth of UK workers want to work from home but are being stopped by bosses worried about losing control – despite research showing it could increase productivity and benefit the environment.
Although there has been a boom in flexible working over the last few years there are still some 4.5million workers who would welcome the chance to do their jobs from home on a regular basis.
Research published in the Work-Life Balance Employee Survey by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform found that despite a willingness to save money and time on travel the majority of companies are uneasy about allowing staff to work remotely.
“Bosses won’t let people work from home for a variety of reasons – mostly due to trust issues and the perceived difficulties of managing remote staff,” said John Hamilton of Kilby Consulting, which helps firms assess the suitability of staff to work at home and provides training to both staff and managers on how to adapt with this new way of working.
“Unfortunately, many managers find the transition to “managing” staff they don’t see every day really difficult. It requires a different type of leadership where motivating from a distance, agreeing aims and objectives and mentoring becomes more important.
“There are also Health and Safety considerations for the employer – they need to be sure that staff working at home are doing so in the right way – it’s not just about making sure they have the right technology. I worked with a company who found that one of their managers was working at home, sitting on their staircase with a laptop on their knee as they had no dining table or spare room at home to work from.
“Workers have their own problems too, such as difficulty with motivation and time management. They also miss the social aspects of the office and that can be a big problem for some people.”
According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) many firms are missing an opportunity which would benefit them in a number of ways, including better staff retention, improved motivation and productivity of workers, a reduction in staff absences and huge savings in infrastructure costs.
“Working for home is growing in popularity but millions of staff are still unable to try it out thanks to over controlling employers,” said Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary.
“Too many workers are wasting their time making journeys they don’t need to, clogging our transport networks during the rush hour and adding to their carbon footprint unnecessarily, while companies are losing out on the cost and productivity benefits of home working. Surely we can be a lot smarter than that.”
Previous research has shown that home working can widen the recruitment pool by attracting people who have traditionally struggled to find work, such as single parents and those with disabilities.
Firms which allow flexible home working also tend to have higher morale among staff which leads to greater productivity.
In addition to the obvious cost savings to be made from a reduction in necessary office space there are also likely to be less sick days among staff as remote working limits exposure to colds, flu and other contagious diseases.
“The nature of work is changing and an increasing number of the working population can now work remotely or from home,” said Phil Flaxton, Chief Executive of the campaign group Work Wise UK.
‘Apart from enhancing work-life balance for employees, with the added health benefits, and reducing the need to travel, working from home can significantly improve productivity, enabling organisations to reduce costs whilst improving efficiency.”