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Working from home

Does working from home make employees more (or less) productive?

There’s been a debate online about the merits of working from home. Telecommuting, as it is called.

IBM have required remote workers to return to working in an office and that’s sparked worldwide argument about the productivity levels of office versus remote working employees – with one person suggesting that people working from home are off ‘walking the dog’.

I’m thinking of a few three word phrases.

  1. Auckland rush hour

  2. Work life balance

  3. So, about productivity

  4. Silence breeds suspicion


Auckland rush hour – let’s call it what it is, wasted time

It’s a fact that in Auckland, the rush hour is basically the opposite of rushing and a standard commute often takes an hour, or in excess of an hour.

The legal use of mobile phones whilst driving will facilitate some productive phone calls. But there are limitations with the technology and coverage.  Additionally, no one of us is an island.  If we have a conversation with a customer, do we not need to record the detail of that call in a database that is located somewhere other than in our car?

So, let’s just call that hour and a half round-trip commute (speaking conservatively) what it is for a lot of people, wasted time. It’s a solid hour and a half that an employee working from home could have spent in their home office working. 



Work / life balance

I honestly think this expression didn’t exist when I started work. I think it’s a sad indictment on our society that no one bats an eyelid when the phrase is used. No one says, “Sorry, what is this thing you call ‘work / life balance’?” Because we all know that the demands of working often take a toll and require us to work away from our families and cut into our leisure time.

So far, thank goodness, in New Zealand we haven’t coined a term to explain death from overwork, but several other cultures have. In Japan, it is Karoshi. In South Korea it is Gwarosa. And in China, Gualaosi. Are we headed that way? Will it one day be accepted that we have a word to sum up the ultimate toll taken by a person’s work?

When redundancies first started to occur with increasing frequency, there was a spectre of ‘is this a person being performance managed out – in the guise of a restructure?’ There was stigma associated with the word ‘redundancy’. Then, all too soon, redundancies became common place.

Terms like ‘out sourcing’ and ‘centralising’ and ‘downsizing’ and putting roles ‘off shore’ started to become part of our vernacular. And as the heat went on those who managed to retain their roles – often with a heavier workload – increasingly, employees found that they had to compete for employment. And things started to get out of whack.


So, about productivity

Some are fortunate enough to be able to work from home and are trusted to do so. And for some, this arrangement works well. For some, this arrangement means that they can be accessible both to their employer and their family, in a more equitable way.

But there are the haters out there. Those who point finger at an employee working from home who stops to put the dishwasher on, or to vacuum a room in the middle of the day. Please! We are not machines! Office based workers are entitled to two 10-minute breaks in a typical working day and to either a half hour or a full hour for lunch. Why would a home-based employee not also take those breaks – to use however they see fit?

And let’s not think – not even for a minute – that office based employees are all about working! I remember the regular employer sanctioned, (and sometimes not sanctioned), downtimes that occurred when I was travelling each day to an office. The chit chat about boys, family, pets, sport, what was on TV, what we had done on the weekend, or what we planned to do on the weekend coming up. There were pauses to celebrate engagements, birthdays and pregnancies.

Among the client employers we work with, I see breaks to celebrate cultural diversity, significant sporting events and employee farewells. There are occasions when whole teams of people down tools to share a cake or an afternoon wine on a Friday. So, don’t tell me that it’s not okay to take a few minutes to tend to adult responsibilities in the home!


Silence breeds suspicion

A sage friend of mine once said, that ‘silence breeds suspicion’. That was to say, that if we are not expressly told something – but we're pretty sure a story exists, we may begin to theorise and perhaps fabricate the details. And sometimes building a worst-case scenario in our minds.

We are simple creatures. Afflicted by this condition which is not rational, not fact based; purely speculative.
In this context and remote from others in the team, the employee working from home is a sitting duck for those who will take aim.

It doesn’t make either side right. Someone working on site in the business might correctly assert that a home-based employee is abusing a perk. The home-based employee might be beyond reproach. And as some employers have found out, having a person physically on site is no guarantee of productivity!!



Your thoughts?

It's an interesting debate.

Email me your thoughts and I will post some of the best comments received over coming days.