Managers: Would you let your team work from home?

technology-792175_640.jpgIn January 2014, some light was shed on the culture of flexible working hours especially for employees based in companies in Sandton, Johannesburg. Big corporates like Discovery Health and Nedbank, as well as law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, have adopted flexible working hours – also commonly referred to as "flexitime" – for their staff for a variety of reasons. We look at flexitime and working from home and ask: would you let your team out of your sight?

Why would you introduce the option to work from home?
There are a number of reasons why businesses have implemented or are considering implementing flexitime or working from home for their employees. These include:

  • to reduce time spent in traffic (and thereby also relieving traffic congestion)
  • to promote the idea of work-life balance, to allow parents to better cater to their family life
  • to reduce overhead costs (such as office space, workstations, electricity and other office resources)
  • to reduce staff turnover (according to a Regus report, 76% of respondents claimed that flexible working hours improved employee retention).

The upside to allowing staff to work off site
For South African companies trying to keep their bottom lines above water, reducing costs is a key objective. While it's tough enough trying to extract more investment from clients, reducing office costs can come as a welcome relief to the balance sheet. From a business perspective, allowing your staff to work from home, even at least for some of the week, can significantly reduce office overheads. Not only will you require less office space (which is priced per square metre), but there will be less electricity used on extra workstations, laptop points, boiling kettles, air-conditioners and other peripherals. That's not to say that managers will never see their team, but that they can arrange with staff to implement "hot desking" – where multiple employees use one workstation or work area at different times of the week, thereby making optimal use of fewer resources.

At Nedbank, the introduction of flexi-hours has shown an increase in staff productivity (which is closely linked to employee happiness), and Discovery Health's policy of only allowing flexible working hours for high-performing staff means that employees see this as a reward that they are prepared to work hard for. Therefore, contrary to popular assumption, flexibility means that staff are more driven to higher productivity and don't take advantage of flexi-time for their own leisure.

When it comes to staff working from home, many South African managers feel uncomfortable about not being able to keep an eye on "absent" employees. However, time-capture systems and various other digital check-in methods, as well as arrangements like weekly meetings in the office, can give managers the peace of mind that their staff members are indeed being productive. The usual adherence to KPI requirements will still apply.

Potential problems with flexitime and off-site work
There are still many environments, especially in banking, customer service, and support industries that do not lend themselves to the culture of flexitime and working from home. However, for businesses in work environments that can cater to off-site work, managers should still be cognisant of the fact that the success of allowing flexitime and working from home is still based on each individual given that privilege.

Some staff members are focused and organised enough to set daily, weekly and monthly tasks for themselves and to complete them in due time, whether they are being monitored or not. This works well in a production environment where workflow is controlled by deadlines and managed by individuals responsible enough to complete their tasks in the allotted time; and where work is distributed via a server or other virtual location. It is this kind of digital collaboration that is driving the justification for off-site productivity.

While working from home and flexitime cannot be applied across the board, in working environments that allow for flexible staff arrangements, it can prove to be a highly economical and successful method of work. Good employees want to work for companies that embrace technology as a means of being more efficient, and most will be more productive for the benefit of more permeable work parameters.

As a manager, will you encourage the independence and productivity of your staff? Have you tried before? What were the outcomes?

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