Working from home

Managers tend to think that they are more productive when working from home than their staff are in similar circumstances.  A few years ago I wrote a paper on working from home and part of the data-collection activity was a survey – and the survey bore out the fact that many (but by no means all) managers do conform to this stereotype.

I work from home quite a lot, and I have to say that for me there are a lot of advantages: fewer interruptions, a dedicated desk, and a very short commute.  In order to connect me to the corporation I have good communications, videoconferencing, a very fast remote network connection, and a telephone “extension” from the corporate system.  The benefits combined with all of the technology (much of which wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago), I believe that I can get a lot more done in a shorter time – essentially, I am more productive.

But this comes at a non-financial cost – without the day-to-day interactions with colleagues I lose out on the snippets of information which are taken for granted, passing the time of day by the kettle, or the idle chitchat which builds and fosters working relationships.

As with pretty much everything, there are trade-offs.  As a manager I recognise the savings to the company, and as an individual I recognise the potential benefits to my work/life balance. But I don’t think I could do it every day.

Am I alone in my views on homeworking?

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Is working from home more productive?

I work from home a lot and I believe that I can be more productive because I’m not interrupted by colleagues, I can dedicate more time because I don’t have much of a commute (it must be all of twenty hards from my bed!), and I am more motivated because I can balance my home/work priorities. But is this typical or not?

Two academics have come up with very similar theories about travel and homeworking:

  • (Hills) less travel = better work = less stress = higher morale
  • (James) travelling less = more time at home = balance of home/work priorities = less stress = better performance

For anyone with a daily commute, I’m sure all will agree that less travel does mean less stress. But it’s probably not unusual for the “less travel” to be translated into “longer hours” because it is easy to be sucked in to long hours at home – especially if your partner is out at work and children are either absent ordo not disturb the work – but whether this is voluntary through happiness, or unwillingly driven through peer pressure (the need to demonstrate that one was actually working) is questionable.  And I am aware of a number of managers who equate productivity with physical presence rather than judging outcomes against objectives (although, fortunately, my manager isn’t in that camp).

But I have found that when I’m not in an office I stop getting the day-to-day colleague interactions – they might have been categorised as interruptions, but they also hold the  news and gossip that I might otherwise not hear.  WIthout face time, it’s hard to make the same network of contacts – only recently did I meet someone I’ve been emailing and talking to for six months, and since meeting (putting a face to the name?) we have been far more productive together.

Not everyone can dedicate room to a study/home office, not everyone has the luxury of tranquil solitude during the day, and not everyone could work from home.

Whilst I genuinely believe that I am more productive when working from home, I don’t think I could do so all of the time.  And maybe that’s the key: a pragmatic balance for all elements which make us productive? Balancing outputs with outcomes, productive tranquility with news-laden interactions, travel with … well, you get the idea.

And having spent the last few years at least trying to work this balance – two or three days at an office, and the rest of the week at home, it certainly seems to be the best of both worlds.

And it makes “dress down Friday” so much more interesting!