When the Office for National Statistics recently published its 2014 report on Characteristics of Home Workers we asked employment partner Kevin Jaquiss, who is working at home at present, to look at it. Here are his thoughts.
A few weeks ago I came a poor second as the pedestrian in a car versus pedestrian contest and am stuck at home with my leg encased in plaster. So I find myself as a reluctant and slightly grumpy home worker.
The report says that of the 30.2 million people in work, 4.2 million are home workers, giving a home worker rate of 13.9%. It identifies two groups – people who work within or around their homes and people who travel for their work and use their home as a base. The most common role for home working is farming followed by construction then sales and business development roles. 63% of home workers are self-employed.
The figures don’t tell the whole story because they only include people who spend more than half of their time working from home. They don’t include me, nor any of the many people who regularly give their Facebook status as working from home or (a bit of a giveaway this) “working from home”.
If I wasn’t hopping from room to room like an out of condition and wounded buffalo, I could be having a great time. I have unlimited access to the fridge, the cupboard and Netflix. No-one is asking me what websites I’m visiting (mostly fantasies about a holiday in a pub by the sea if you must know); in fact no-one is asking me anything. Through the wonders of the internet I have full access to all the IT systems I would be using if I was sat at my desk looking out on the glory which is Manchester city centre rather than through the window to my sunny garden.
But there are some things missing. If I was an employee using my home as my main place of work, there would be a structure; my employer would have to know what my working environment was and there would be a pattern for my working hours, my communication with the office and my reporting. There would be some means of monitoring my work and my performance. For those of us who are able to take the odd day or a relatively short period working from home, none of this is usually in place.
Casual home working is an important part of getting the best out of people and deserves more attention than we give it. It’s good that people can get a full day’s work in when they have to be home for the plumber. It’s good that people can get peace and quiet to read a lot of papers or write a difficult report. But there are some things to think about if we’re going to use the facility effectively:
• There need to be some rules about who can work at home and when. In the absence of a structure, working from home tends to be the preserve of senior management and those with the cheek to do it. This can cause resentment – with a little thought, home working can usefully be offered to a range of people beyond the usual suspects
• There should be ground rules about working hours, communication and reporting. For those at home it’s good to feel that you are still part of a team; for the business, it’s important to know that there are parameters within which people work and make decisions
• Some basics about working environment and systems need to be established. It may not be practical to do a home risk assessment for everyone who might sometime work from home for a day but some basics about what people need and how they should work can be laid down. There are also important security questions about use of office systems and about people putting work information and documents on their own laptops, tablets and PCs
• Finally, monitoring who works at home and how often is important. If someone is working from home more often it may be a sign that they are struggling or that they have issues in the office. It will also have an effect on relationships.
As an employer, you need to be sensitive to these things if home working is going to be a positive benefit to you and your people as I think, writing from my kitchen table, it should be.