Working in more than one place…

With all the snow, ice and confusion in the wider world it is so nice to know I don’t have to sit on a train, in a car, on a plane, in an airport, at a service station or on a draughty railway station to get to my office. Being able to work from home, office, cafe, friends house or in fact anywhere there is a form of Internet connection is a great privilege and perk of the 21st century.

I know not all types of work suit working from home, but I do suspect there are many people in A&E right now who needn’t be there or people filling out accident insurance claims hoping they had ticked no claims protection who shouldn’t be. Sadly, maybe, some will have deprived their families of their presence forever.

In days of old, say 40 years ago, most people lived and worked in areas adjacent to each other and for most, commutes were shorter and easier. Now we seem to think we can to travel far greater distances to work. So many businesses have such a geographically dispersed workforce that the need to travel consumes vast amounts of time and can reduce the productivity of employees significantly.

A 9am start at the office may begin with waking at 7am and leaving at 530pm can mean arriving home at 7pm. Parents don’t see young children unless the kids get sleep deprived! Businesses consume more of their employees lives and less of their working potential. More than just the average commute time being about 47mins (47-minutes-of-hell) it is not a good way to start or end the day for physical or mental health reasons either. Employees should think, you lose nearly one working day per week in commute time – is your time so cheap that you give your life away?

In the UK it is easy to get hold of the technology to free people from desks, but it has not been embraced as a way of keeping as many people as possible connected especially in smaller businesses. Unless you are a manager or old style ‘road warrior’ (who for ages have successfully used this stuff) few employees get access to the simple tools that would make them more efficient. Fear of loss of control, cheating staff and of the unknown are possible culprits.

Any way, why would it help? Cue; the snow, floods, accidents, fuel crisis, traffic congestion, sickness, parenting needs, job sharing, holidays, out of hours emergencies etc.

Most office work can really be done from places other than the office. Emails, instant messaging, video conferencing, collaboration, document writing, web updates, sales processing, transaction processing even phone calls can easily be handled from home office environments. Social interaction and office chat can even be encouraged with careful use of social networking sites.

Working from home doesn’t mean it has to be everyday or most days. It should be simple, flexible and easy. If the technology is in place it makes working in the office easier too. Gives you the chance to move offices, take on temporary staff, expand or ‘downsize’ faster, take over other business – all with minimal fuss and of course, expense. Yes, it does work out to be cheaper to have the services provided than manage it yourself.

Trust and apathy seem really to be at the root of all the ‘reasons’ things don’t change. Personally, if you can’t trust your employees to work from home, why are you employing them at all? As for apathy, it kills the chance to exploit new opportunities and damages our economy.

Our experience from 20 years of working in more than just an office, has been that good employees work upto 20% more time and are happier, reducing sickness and absenteeism. They feel happier, even asking to be able to work from home if a little under the weather, or recuperating from being ill, or the morning after the night before – though, I recommend, maybe not with video conferencing!

So perhaps you should trust your employees more, or find employees you can trust. Whichever it will probably contain a very pleasant surprise on the bottom line too…

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