Working from Home – what remote work looks like for IT employers and employees

Working from Home – what it looks like for IT employers and employees and how to work from home efficiently

Working from home? You’re not alone. Even before the Covid-19 changes made this the norm, the IT industry was the front runner by some margin in working from home statistics. In 2019 in the UK, 14.8% of IT employees listed their home as the main place of work and 53.1% reported working from home or being able to work from home regularly. This compares to 5.2% and 26.7% overall respectively in all industries.

(Source: Office for National Statistics, UK, December 2019)

Now we are deeply embedded in our lockdown habits, the statistics have changed quite markedly. By the end of April this year, 60% of the UK’s population were working from home. This has some advantages and disadvantages for employers and employees. Let’s dig a bit deeper here.

Advantages – As an employer
• Cost savings on office space – this is self-explanatory, but many companies are now waking up to the potential savings on offer here.
• Employee retention improvement – employee turnover in “working from home” positions is 50% lower than turnover in traditional office based roles in IT.
• Productivity gains – this is one which companies have yet to see the light on. Procter and Gamble reported productivity gains of up to 50% in roles where the work from home option was activated. This is becoming clearer with each passing month of the pandemic.
• Availability of a wider talent pool, not limited by geography – this opens up a potentially huge market, even if you are still restricted by time zone. Furthermore, having a working from home culture is attractive – 68% of millennials, when interviewed, said they would now expect a work from home option to be part of an IT contract.

Advantages – As an employee
• Financial and time savings – the average commute time for European workers is one hour and 24 minutes per day – that’s a fair chunk of time saving each day. Additionally, European workers normally spend anywhere up to 7% of their net income on commuting – again, a fair saving here.
• Work-life balance – not only are there time savings to be realised, but the very fact you are at home can be soothing too. 70% of home workers report stress reductions as a result of their arrangements.
• Convenience – roll out of bed and in to work. Get a coffee whenever you like with your favourite brand. Make some bread or cookies in your break. Stroke your dog or cat and converse with your family. Enjoy the fresh air where you live rather than in a soulless business park or major city – not having to live in a busy city is marked as a key benefit for 54% of home workers. In fact, 40% of home seekers list “a suitable office space” as important in their house hunting.

Disadvantages – As an employer
• Performance monitoring and staff development is harder. Your workers are remote and not visible for most of the day. This demands additional focus on performance management.
• Some roles are not suitable for home working. This can be especially true for working on an SAP project, which requires in depth face to face communication and relationship building. It may be that we are just realising that tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom can get us part of the way there.

Disadvantages – As an employee
• Some additional cost – this is inevitable, although is likely to be offset by savings in commuting and costs (such as telecommunication and broadband) can often be met by the employer.
• Isolation/lack of communication – a 2019 study of 2,500 remote workers by online brand development agency Buffer found that 19% reported loneliness as the most challenging aspect of working from home.

How can you make working from home work for you?
Having spent twenty years working from home for at least part of the week, I’ve included some tips and suggestions to make life a little easier below.

• Pretend you are in the office!
What do you do when you are in the office? Maybe you go and get a coffee or tea as soon as you start and then check emails first. Build that as a routine when working from home. Your subconscious mind will be used to that as a routine and so the working rhythm will be established immediately. With this in mind, it is definitely worth getting dressed out of those pyjamas and taking a shower before you start. Again, this is tricking your mind in to thinking you are at work, thus making the transition to home working easier.

• Similar to the above, sort out your workspace.
Get yourself a comfortable chair and desk, with reliable broadband connection.

• Set yourself some reasonable working hours.
I can see you rolling your eyes already. Reasonable working hours in an SAP project? When has that ever been a thing? Well, it needs to be a thing now. The enduring problem with working from home is that the danger is that you are “always on”. You can mitigate this by closing your laptop at the end of the day. It might be hard and there will inevitably be occasions when you need to open it again and do something, but these should be the exceptions. Your home is your space and after hours, work needs to take a back seat in order to respect your private life.

• Get outside!
This is by far the most important one for me. Take a break and some fresh air at lunchtime and throughout the day. You don’t want to fall into the trap of getting to early evening and realising that you haven’t moved all day long from your chair. This falls under the “look after yourself” bucket.

• Set some rules for others in your household
Being disturbed by your young kids in the middle of that C-level IT project update can be amusing but also stressful if it keeps happening. Let your family know what your day looks like – maybe close the door to your office space if it is important you are not disturbed for a period of time (although remember to open it again or the rule will be lost!).

• Socialise remotely
You should go to town on this one. Attend lots of calls and even set up virtual coffee breaks with your colleagues if you can. Seeing people face to face is a real tonic when you are working from home and should not be underestimated.

• Don’t be hard on yourself
This can be a difficult adjustment to make, so take your time to find what works for you. If your motivation is lacking on some days, go with it – that happens when you are in the office too sometimes, right? Check in with other home workers regularly to get support. Your routines will establish themselves after a while, with a little goading from you. Be patient.

Summary

Working from home can be very rewarding, but also has its challenges. The good thing is that companies are waking up to this now – benefits packages are starting to be put in place by companies specifically for home workers, which is great news all round. And one last point – if you can get into the office every now and then (once it is safe to do so of course), then do it. Showing your face at work is good for you and good for your team and manager too.

Author: Jon Simmonds, Senior IT Architect

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