Even just 10 years ago – and certainly 20 years ago, the notion of ‘working from home’ was often met with cynicism from employers and fellow staff. Being paid to do your job without being in the office? How could proper work be done? Well it can, and the reality in 2019 is that working from home and other flexible working arrangements are being supported by employers at a growing rate.
In our March 2019 IT Job Seekers report, we found that 46% of IT employers have remote workers. Technology has progressed to a point where many roles can be done, if not completely, at least in part, remotely. Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, Google Docs, and other platforms enable staff to remain connected to the team without necessarily sharing the same office space all 40 hours of the week.
Staff have legitimate reasons to work remotely – travel distance from work, parenting obligations and productivity to name just three.
So, as an employer, how do you offer a working-from-home option and still get what you need from your team? And employees, how can you best work in a flexible working arrangement without losing that important connection with the other staff, not to mention career progression?
We take a closer look at this growing trend of remote working, and consider the benefits for either side.
Flexible working arrangements and productivity
Enabling staff to work some of the week from home is initially based on trust. Employers expect that work will continue to progress at the same (or better) rate as being done in the office. For many workers, the ability to work partially from home actually increases productivity.
The home can be set up for a distraction-free working environment that enables full concentration on tasks at hand. Many remote workers note the advantage of home-based work over the office given they are not physically present to be interrupted by co-workers throughout the day.
This is also true of how work can be interrupted by in-person meetings. Planning a set day at home that’s dedicated to actively work on projects and solo work can usually guarantee that time will be used accordingly, without being pulled into unrelated discussions that can wait. Task switching ‘time cost’ can mount up for employees, meaning delays or drop in quality of work delivered. This problem is reduced significantly with remote working.
Then we have the issue of commuting. Staff can spend hours travelling to and from work which eats up valuable time in their day and can lead to fatigue. If an employee is only required to travel to work for a part of the week, employers may see elevated output, especially on working from home days where employees can start working earlier with a fresh, clear head.
IT professionals across a breadth of disciplines talk to us about the advantage of remote working. In fact, while many remote workers do so to knuckle down and focus on concentration-heavy tasks, there is human-centric work that benefits from remote working as well. Just take client phone calls and video conferencing. So often we hear of offices with a shortage of meeting and quiet rooms in which to make calls. By having a setup at home, employees are able to make uninterrupted calls and video conferences for as long as needed. Behind in emails? Even a half day at home or a quiet public spot (like a cafe) to clear the inbox can be hugely beneficial to employees feeling on top of their workload.
It’s not true for all IT professionals that working from home is good for productivity. The potential distractions at home could lead to a disjointed work day. It all depends on office environment,home environment and ultimately the working style of the employee. It may be the case that the office is actually better for high-concentration work, or that an employee simply finds it hard to get into ‘work mode’ while at home.
Based on countless discussions with IT workers who work from home, it seems that homes with a dedicated ‘office’ that is quiet, private and comfortable support the working from home arrangement the best. We suggest that employees who want to work from home think carefully about setting up a productive home office space.
Retention of good employees – not just a money thing.
When we surveyed IT employers in March 2019, the top reason for allowing remote workers was to retain good talent. This is a reality of the modern-day IT sector. Skilled professionals also have lives, and the ability to drop their kids off at school, reduce their commuting hours/costs or simply enjoy a better work/life balance are all big motivators for talent to stay with their employers.
Retaining an employee is not an exercise in routinely dishing out pay rises to ensure that specialised skills don’t exit the company. Yes, a better salary is still a big motivator for employees, but as far as non-financial incentives go, 26% of employees we surveyed stated ‘working from home’ as the best benefit they could get (30% stated ‘flexible working hours’). What does this mean for employers? Savvy employers are opening up to the idea of valuable staff engaging with the business in an arrangement outside of nine-to-five in the office seven days a week. Happy, motivated staff lead to better output, so employers are finding ways to enable this.
Striking a balance between the office and working from home
The challenge with employees working from home can be staying ‘close’ to what’s happening in the business. IT companies, especially those working on Agile principles are going to have regular ‘stand ups’ and huddles about work. Not being in the office means that staff can run the risk of missing out on information. However, if remote working is embedded in a business, there should be processes designed to ensure free-flowing communication to all staff.
Video conferencing as standard practice for internal meetings is recommended. This means that offices have adequate ‘VC’ equipment that supports Google Hangouts, Skype or other platforms.
Cloud based team messaging and workflow platforms such as Slack are becoming part of the comms culture of many IT businesses. Combined with email (better for more important, decision making communication), these tools give staff visibility on the progress of projects or other company information – regardless of where they are working.
Even with technology enabling remote work, we found in our discussions with IT employers and employees that a mix of ‘working from home’ and in the office worked best, with 66% of remote workers doing it this way. The loss of personal connection with their team is one of the major drawbacks that employers cite about remote working and a healthy mix will help to mitigate this.
Employees may want to pay special attention to being present in the office and working alongside teammates. Otherwise the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ effect can creep in, particularly for newer employees, leading to stunted career progression.
Tips for a productive remote working environment
So you’re working from home – or planning to. Here are some tips to make your home or remote work environment conducive to productivity:
- Quiet space – set up in a quiet part of the house or other space. A desk set up in a busy living room can lead to constant distractions from others in the house, such as children and pets. Make sure you’re set up somewhere that no one goes through regularly.
- Clear desk – clutter on the desk can lead to distraction and disorganisation throughout the work day – especially if you’re working with physical documents. Clear everything but what you need onto shelves or into filing cabinets.
- Comfortable computer setup – consider a good computer monitor with anti-glare along with an ergonomic, comfortable keyboard and mouse. If you’re going to be spending all day on a computer you should reduce the chance of eye strain or muscle pains.
- Seat and desk set up properly – just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean the workstation set up advice from the office doesn’t apply. Set up your chair to enable a natural seated position with feet on the floor. Make sure your desk positions your computer monitor at a natural eye angle (often level with the top of the monitor). You may even want to invest in a standing desk to get the health benefits this offers.
- Continue to observe breaks and lunch – we can get on a roll at home working, but it’s important to still take tea breaks and eat a good lunch. Set reminders to ensure you have breaks, otherwise you’ll find it hard to remain productive during the afternoon.
- Natural lighting – natural light is highly advantageous for our mood and eye comfort. Endeavour to place your desk and computer in a place where there’s natural daylight coming into the room. Just be careful not to have sunlight glare on your screen.
- Good internet -this one is key. Slow internet is the enemy of productivity. Internet needs might depend on the role and demands of the platforms you use, however most activity is possible with a standard ADSL connection. As fibre is rolled out through New Zealand, you may wish to opt for this ultra-fast option regardless.
Things to watch out for when working remote
While there are clear advantages of working remote, there are some elements of this arrangement that both employees and employers need to be aware of.
Depending on how many days a week a team member works remote, it may become tricky as a manager to regularly check in and ensure everything is going well. Make sure to schedule in catch-ups in person on a day the staff member is in the office, don’t rely solely on video chats.
Ensure there’s enough work to be done remotely
As we’ve covered already, it makes sense to work remotely if you need to review a lot of detail for a report or work on a large project. But during periods when it’s business as usual, remote workers should establish what work will be done remotely and discuss this with their managers. This needs to be done ahead of time.
Review quality and timeliness of delivery
Both managers and staff members should continually review the delivery produced remotely to ensure it’s high quality and completed on time. There may be cases where certain work needs to be done onsite collaboratively with other team members, rather than from home.
Ensure security measures are in place for remote working
Employers should ensure that employees working remote have security measures in place to prevent any issues occuring on sensitive projects. This must be covered before work is taken offsite. Some projects or activities may require to be completed in the office with the rest of the team present, so it is important to be clear on the authorised offsite activity.
At home, employees are surrounded by distractions. Washing needs doing, kids home from school, a personal phone call, etc. Working from home takes a certain level of willpower to not get preoccupied with life admin. Our tips on setting up a productive work environment earlier can help manage this.
Make an effort to stay connected
Even during remote working days, employees need to make sure they are up to date with company news, clients and projects. This is best achieved when remote working is a mix of onsite and offsite hours with access to internal communication channels.
Learn more about NZ employers that offer flexible working arrangements
In today’s modern IT industry, flexible working arrangements including working remotely are commonplace. As technology develops and more specialist skills are needed, employers are becoming more accommodating of IT professionals’ desire for work/life balance. But employees need to make sure that working remotely still enables them to meet the requirements of their role. Many employers/staff are finding the mix of in the office and at home offers the best of both worlds.
If you’re an IT professional looking for a role that enables working from home, you can get in touch with one of our team.
If you’re an IT business that offers or plans to offer flexible working arrangements, reach out to Absolute IT to discuss the IT skills you require.