Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Working from home - to do or not to do?

I have been quiet for a while but thought you might appreciate a recent article on remote working I wrote for Hertfordshire Matters News run by Flexible Skills Bank

Working from home - to do or not to do?

Remote control - is it viable for a small business to employ people that will work out of the office or is this the preserve of the large corporations?

The advent of the blackberry, broadband and mobile phones have made working remotely the reality that some talked up a decade or so ago. Additionally the stress and cost (both financial and psychological) of commuting to an office makes working remotely incredibly attractive. While we have probably all worked from home when waiting for the repairman or plumber is this a viable employment strategy for a small business?

As with all of these questions there is no hard and fast answer, it all depends on the type of business, degree to which an employee is customer facing and for that matter if that interaction is face-to-face, via the phone or web/e-mail. With email and web the key is speed of response not the location of the respondent and the advent of VoIP (digital telephony) means an office call can be routed to wherever your employees are.

Then there is also the question of data and systems, if all that is required is accessing email, doing so remotely is relatively straight forward but entering customer data into a Customer Relationship Management system may only be done in an office.

However the most important issues are not technology or process but people namely staff competency and management mindset.

Staff competency - the key here is can your employees deliver what is asked of them? By and large junior staff need guidance and support that make working remotely incompatible with carrying out their role effectively. Senior staff who know what is required of them are the more likely candidates to work from home. It's no coincidence that the example given for remote working are mobile salesforce who either generate business or don't and need to be in front of customers and not in an office.

Management mindset - some management have the view that if an employee is not sat at their desk then they are not being productive, such a mindset is limiting for two reasons firstly the manager is likely to spend time worrying who is doing what rather than on providing support to subordinates to deliver value to the business, while junior team members may well get resentful over time! Supporting staff working remotely requires managers to be very organised, communicate very effectively on what needs to be done by when and have sufficient intuition to spot problems before anything can be done.

From my experience it is best to take a mixed approach spending some time in the office and the remainder working remotely, this is especially useful if you need to brainstorm ideas or find solutions to problems facing your customers. But the trick for both office based staff and those working remotely is to communicate effectively about who is doing what and to flag up issues as quickly as possible.

Marc Duke is an independent marketing consultant, helping businesses grow through effective marketing advice. He can be reached on

No comments: