Office costs are crippling you, and half your workforce would like to work from home. It seems obvious, but you're not so sure. How will you know they're not skiving? And how will you maintain that precious esprit de corps if your human resources are scattered like confetti over a 30-mile radius?
START WITH A PILOT. A pilot involving a handful of employees will let you test the viability of home working. The three main benefits to employers, according to Alan Denbigh, director of teleworking organisation TCA, are reduced overheads, greater efficiency and improved recruitment and retention. But keep it voluntary. If you force people to work from home it's likely to fail.
CHECK OUT THE PREMISES. As an employer, you have a duty of care to ensure that the environment in which each individual will be working is safe, suitable and ergonomically designed. Steve McPherson, head of BT's Workstyle consultancy, says each individual's line manager should organise a 'risk assessment' ranging from the space available to checking low ceilings that could cause an injury.
PROVIDE THE TOOLS. If you want your people to function properly in their workplace, be prepared to spend money on technology, furniture and filing space. Where confidential information is involved, security is an important issue . You may need to re-think support in areas such as IT. And Cary Cooper, Bupa professor of organisational psychology at UMIST, points out: 'You should provide training on how to work from home, on issues like managing work versus home life, and setting up rules with their families.'
FOCUS ON OUTPUT, NOT THE CLOCK. Unless a home-based individual is providing a service, such as in a virtual call centre, there is no reason to make them work fixed hours. 'The real challenge is to get away from the presenteeism culture and focus on people's output - the work they produce,' says Denbigh. You should also be on your guard for people overworking. 'Look out for e-mails sent at 3am. Just because they're at their place of work doesn't mean they should be on call 24 hours a day.'
MAKE EXPECTATIONS CLEAR. If your people aren't in the office, it's crucial they have an accurate job description of what they're expected to do in a specified time. You'll also need to rewrite the employment contract to stipulate when people must come to the office, arrangements for childcare provisions and so on.
OUT OF SIGHT, NOT OUT OF MIND. You won't bump into your homeworkers by the photocopier, so it's vital to find other ways to keep them motivated and in the loop. 'Ring up to say thanks for something they've done,' advises McPherson. A daily call, weekly audio conference and monthly face-to-face meetings between team members all help to keep the team spirit alive.
SET UP BUDDIES. Another idea is to partner each home-based worker with a 'buddy' in the office - 'Someone it's always OK for you to ring with any little questions or needs,' says McPherson.
KEEP A FEW DESKS HOT. Retain some space for your home-based workers for when they want - or need - to come into the office. Some organisations insist that one day a week is spent in the office. This helps maintain the culture of the business, but still frees plenty of space if the 'in-days' are rotated.
DO SAY: 'As part of our flexible working strategy, we will allow people to work from home where it is appropriate to their role and they have a suitable environment to do so.'
DON'T SAY: 'As of next month, we are sub-letting this office and everyone will have to work from home. I'll be running things from my new executive suite.'