I’m in favour of working from home, here’s why…


Some of the clients we have been working with this week have team members who work from home on a regular or part time basis. They see this as cost effective, and report that it works really well for them. I’ve always been focused on the positive side of remote working, but it seems some need convincing. There are two reasons why I want to outline my thoughts on working from home, 1) because it’s what some of the team do at StexFGiving for part of the week, 2) because I think smaller charities and not-for-profits should embrace this way of working and not treat it as something to be tolerated, or worse, inspire a culture of eye-rolling cynicism at the thought of someone working from home.

It’s 2014. High definition video conferencing, accountability, productivity and more meaningful ways of measuring outputs are all sound reasons why the old idea of having to be monitored in an office is not the most effective way of working and getting the best from people. One of the things that’s been shown to demotivate, even depress, workers the most is an unsustainable commute. Breaking that up by even one day a week could result in happier, healthier team members. Also noteworthy are the costs associated with work: lunches, coffee and of course travel can mean everyone’s pockets are slightly better off for working from home.

Famously, during the London Olympics, Londoners were asked to stagger their travel – of course not everyone could, but as more people do work from home there are supplementary benefits like less strain on transport infrastructure if take-up increases. It seems whenever conversation turns to working from home that most people start thinking of the amount of washing they can get done. As a manager I am fine with that, I know that if we were all office based the same time would be lost to chatting in the communal kitchen. One thing that managers have to address is the psychology of presenteeism: just because backsides are on seats doesn’t mean that everyone is working away at a premium pace and producing work to the best of their ability.

The challenge here is a timeless one: motivation. Motivation isn’t something to take for granted – assuming that staff are intrinsically and by default motivated because they are working for a good cause. In my management experience in fact the opposite is true: motivation is something managers may not even address until an issue develops: targets missed, under-performance, resignation: both literal and figurative.
I want to say something radical here: I have never motivated anyone. Motivation just isn’t something you can give to someone else, it has to come from them. It’s my job to provide a context and environment in which people motivate themselves.

If people feel that they work best in their home environment, then I accept that, and I will do all I can to facilitate it for them. I’ve heard it said that office workers actually are productive for just 2 hours a day. You take away email chains that don’t need reading, much less replying, printer problems, post room visits, any number of small, dull and daily distractions and look at proper productivity, and it just doesn’t happen for 8 hours straight. This convinces me: just because you are in an office doesn’t mean you are being productive, and are automatically motivated.

To attract the best people, people who motivate themselves – and I truly believe that one of the many benefits of the charity and not for profit sector is that people are genuinely motivated by what they do and by getting the best results for their cause – flexibility is a reasonable thing to ask for, in both directions.

In contrast, by talking to my team and from my own experience, there is a feeling of being compelled to demonstrate productivity when working from home, somewhat paradoxically, precisely because you can’t be seen.
Here are some tips from the StexFGiving team:

1. It sounds obvious but carve out a dedicated space. Don’t ignore comfort and posture; invest in an adjustable office chair. Even if you are used to surfing the net for hours at a time at home, work is different, you will tense up when concentrating for long periods.

2. Get in the habit of letting people know what you’re doing, a request comes in, reply and acknowledge receipt.

3. No-one is 100% productive the entire day, figure out your ratio. It turns out that there is an optimal division: the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes. We all know how distracting home can be, so some self-discipline and an alarm if necessary will help to re-focus after that all important break.

4. Sign off! You may be tempted to finish a piece of work and then switch to surfing mode. Psychologically, create a division. Get changed, walk around the block. The act of returning and putting your key in the door works as a great buffer: you’re ‘home’ now.

For people who work from home for the right reasons, they, as well as your organisation, can benefit. The 9-5 office day doesn’t have to be the default. Embrace change, trust your team, help them motivate themselves and watch everyone be more productive on mutually beneficial terms.

Work patterns are changing, keep the best people around you by adopting positive change. Working from home can benefit everyone, don’t fall into the trap of presenteeism and one final thing, drop a light-hearted email every now and then, it’s important not to lose a sense of being in a team, wherever you may be. And when you pop into the kitchen for a coffee and the milk is all gone, you’ll only have yourself to blame.