To Trust or not to trust – 7 things for you to consider if you (or your staff) wish to work flexibly or from home

FRIDAY 18 May 2018 was #NationalWorkingFromHomeDay and I have found in my long and varied career (I look older than I am obviously!) every blog, article and journalist has had an opinion on it, and in particular the question of ‘to trust or not to trust’ employees who wish to utilise this way of working.

Yes working from home is a growing trend with Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, saying that “Millions of working people would like to work from home, at least some of the time. And organisations that facilitate home working have been shown to be happier and more productive places to work.”

So to help you consider if it’s for you or for your employees if you are a business leader/owner let’s take a practical approach. Flexible or home working (for ease I will use the terms synonymously) is actually a really great method of working – for both the employee and the employer. I’m a staunch advocate for it, in the right place, with the right guidelines, for the right reasons and in the right roles.

An previous colleague of mine stated in despair on reading the latest reported facts: “if home working is not effective then surely it is about the mind-set of the individual and how they apply themselves”. She agreed it may not be for everyone but wished as a nation we would “grow up and manage the individual, not manage and implement rules to the lowest common denominator”.  Blimey it wasn’t often I heard her that riled on an HR matter!

So, instead of banning it in its entirety, ignoring it or tarring everyone with the same brush, let’s put some things in place to help make it work.

1. Educate and train managers and employees alike. It’s not surprising that unsupportive managers are cited frequently in the research as a real blocker to creating a flexible environment. Coaching managers is therefore vital and will help to produce a consistent and fair approach across the entire organisation.
2. Communicate the aims and benefits of flexible work arrangements. It’s imperative to encourage better communication between employers, managers and employees so that employees and line managers are aware of organisational policies. But please avoid long lists of policies and processes. One key policy and one easy to follow request process will suffice.
3. Regularly evaluate what is and isn’t working and share success stories. Take time to review where flexible working is successful and compare that to where it isn’t to understand the differences and to identify what is preventing them from working elsewhere. By sharing any success stories you will engage the reticent managers and hopefully encourage more managers to try it.
4. Track performance. Implement a means to demonstrate the employee’s performance/work rate, be that working from home or working flexibly. There will be less concern and suspicion where sales targets are set, or daily/weekly to-do list statuses are shared, or status reports completed.  That way the organisation and the manager know and can monitor productivity.  One of the main reasons cited by Yahoo was that when they reviewed login times they were inconsistent with expectations – so be clear with the employee, tell them what is expected and advise that you can, and will check.
5. Introduce other means of communication to help. This is a chance to use new technology – Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime or other forms of videoconferencing – which can be used to reinforce the connections and to bring the team closer together.
6. Ensure Data Security and GDPR Compliance. Think about how you can adopt and introduce the correct technology to enable this flexibility. It is about the need to ensure that workers can remain as productive as their office based counterparts and that they are also keeping data secure. It’s not, as one article reported, about restricting the number of workers that will be allowed to work from home to ensure security though! Instead reduce points of vulnerability by making sure everyone on the team keeps any and all business-sensitive documents in one secure location, rather than on their individual laptops, ensure that you keep access to connections secure as remote workers are particularly vulnerable to internet attacks, and brushing up on password security.
7. Trial it. If nothing else, a trial will demonstrate whether it will work or not. Give the team a chance to see it in practice and the manager a chance to properly assess whether it’s realistic and practical. This can be as short as a month or as long as six months. Review it, tweak it and move on, accept it, or go back to a more ‘traditional’ way of working. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is my motto here.

Now, I personally would expect some give and take too. When I was returning to work on a four day week after maternity I did expect to be available on that fifth day. I wanted people to realise that I did take my work seriously and that I could and would be flexible, but that’s just me. Let’s be clear – a company can ask for that and try and mandate for it but it needs to be right for the individual too.

So, let’s go back to the original thought. Should flexible and homeworking be banned as we are managing to the lowest denominator, or with these simple steps can it be successfully implemented, be a useful tool for engagement and in turn increase commitment and productivity?
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