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Should I let my employees work from home?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I run a company which has around 25 members of staff, and they are all spending a lot of time crowing about how they'd like the opportunity to work from home. I know it makes sense - it's good for employee retention, and would minimise disruption when factors beyond my control, such as bad weather, mean employees can't get to work. However, I get really anxious when I can't see my staff beavering away in front of me. How do I know that they're really working and not watching Jeremy Kyle?

A: I wish I knew the kind of work your company does - but, from the sound of it, it's mainly workstation stuff, in front of a computer screen. So it's easy to believe, just because you can see your staff beavering away, that they are in fact working. They may not be.

I don't necessarily mean that they're catching up on their online shopping or tweeting away to their many admirers; they may simply be idling, in the sense that a car engine idles. Studies have shown that in the course of an eight-hour day, the most conscientious of workers is unlikely to be at the peak of productivity for more than four or five. They may not be watching Jeremy Kyle in their own front rooms but their output may be almost as low as if they were.

So perhaps you need to agonise a little less and trust your staff a little more. What matters in the end, of course, is not how long a person works but whether the necessary work gets done: on time and to your standards. Try relaxing your rules for an experimental period, maybe for just a couple of days a week, and see if you detect any obvious decline in either quality or quantity. You might have to extend this period, as I suspect any real drop in standards would become apparent only after a while. Without the discipline of a train to catch and an office opening time, it can get progressively more difficult to drag yourself to your home computer at nine o'clock sharp.

One caution, though. If the work your company does involves any form of creative thinking, don't underestimate the huge value of a shared physical presence: of discussion, gossip, competition and challenge. It's not always apparent, let alone measurable; but if working from home becomes the norm, the loss of this kind of positive human interaction could be a great deal more damaging than the occasional surrender to daytime television.

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