Working at home occasionally isn't an option for everyone
Home working is when the home is the permanent place of work. Working at home for the odd day is a different matter altogether.
The practice has no defining legislation and often not much guidance for managers at the company level. Does the individual's manager say, 'Go ahead, you'll probably get more done', or refuse on the grounds that if one person gets permission, everybody will clamour for an away day?
Whether a person gets permission to work at home depends a lot on who is asking. Anne Bennett, from the independent Office for Public Management suggests that in the public sector the request 'has tended to come from more senior people and from individuals who are very assertive'. The nature of the job itself is also clearly significant.
For district nurses and VAT inspectors, for instance, who spend much of their time out of the office on visits, it makes sense to write a report at home.
Large companies like to be seen to be leading the pack when it comes to matters of employee relations. Since their merger, Lloyds Bank and TSB have updated their separate policies into a booklet Balancing work and home responsibilities, issued to all staff to ensure that even if the manager has to say 'No' that at least no one is thrown totally off guard by a request to work at home. 'We are certainly not against it,' says Mike Masters, senior manager, employee relations. Indeed, the bank's IT division has even drawn up guidelines of how to make it work. In other sections, the decision usually lies with the individual manager, or team leader. In the bank's branches, of course, working from home is not really a feasible option.
Manufacturing has tended to offer little flexibility as far as working at home is concerned. Nissan, in Sunderland, takes such a firm line that the workplace is the place to be that most staff would not even ask. 'It's very difficult to find any scope for home working in any major sense, even for support staff,' says Philip Ashmore, personnel director.
'The major tenet here is team working because that's the way to make cars, and there is such a lot to be gained by everybody being very close to the product.'
But another manufacturer, Paul Rink, joint chairman of Darwen-based Wolstenholme Rink (which makes and distributes products to the ink and print industries) is pondering whether his managers should not be more flexible. Soul-searching in the boardroom was prompted by a staff saleswoman, a young mother, who wanted to work more at home, but her manager decided it would not suit the rest of his team. 'We are still traditional, but perhaps we shouldn't be. The old adage of managers, that "if I don't see them, I don't trust them", doesn't apply now. You often get more than a day's work from somebody working at home with modern IT,' says Rink.
Professional firms have recognised this for a long time. 'We say it's acceptable on occasions for somebody doing a major piece of litigation, for example,' agrees Brian Hopkinson, managing partner of commercial lawyers Pinsent Curtis. Kevin Dickinson, national director of human resources for accountants Pannell Kerr Forster concurs.
'There's an informal agreement that most of our senior management will spend some time working at home,' he says, 'but demand is gradually increasing from others. Personally, with pressure on overheads, I'd like to see more of it.'.