Working from home

Sorry for the bad hand-writing; my washing machine was on...

If there is one thing that all local government staff can agree on it’s that no-one can agree on the appropriate place for ‘working from home’ within the local government world.

Too often the response of colleagues when you tell them that you will be working from home the next day is to raise their hands to the side of the heads, put their index and middle fingers in the sky and then bend them as they say that you’ll be “working” from home then.

Despite this there are plenty of good reasons for why both the organisation and the individual should work from home and very few reasons why they shouldn’t. Working from home benefits the work life balance, allows for more focused work and saves the council money. There are, of course, different ways to manage the home working.

Personally, I like to work from home when I’ve got a big piece of work to do. I like the ability to put on my own music, get comfortable at my dining table and just delve into it. Without the inevitable distractions of an office environment I estimate increased productivity of at least half. I don’t do it very often but sometimes the act of clearing your diary and working from home can be deeply beneficial.

Similarly, one of my previous managers used to have so many meetings that he would block one day per week to work from home. During that day he would clear all his e-mails, write his reports, set tasks for nearly all of us and did some of the strategy work that can get lost in the mire of the daily grind. He also had the rare chance to drop his son off at nursery and pick him up as well which he really looked forward to.

For those staff who are often required in the office and who don’t spend enough time at their desk working from home can be an amazing benefit. For those with a long commute which damages their family life it can be a life saver.

However, for a lot of our staff there are also other considerations. Many staff are working from their desk nearly all day every day and as long as we give them a computer, network connection and a phone they could be in Timbuktu for all it matters to staff efficiency or effectiveness. The trick is not to be too prescriptive about it. Some staff really enjoy working from home and would like to do it permanently if they could. Some staff value the camaraderie of the office and are motivated to achieve by being around others.

Many councils are currently in the position of downsizing their office portfolio, asking staff to hot desk, work flexibly and work from home so that the council can close down offices that would otherwise be costing them lots of money.

This is to be welcomed. Working from home is rarely “working” from home. Yes, it requires different styles of management but as managers never stand over their staff anyway it isn’t too difficult to handle.

However, just because it saves money doesn’t mean councils should implement it in a one-size fits all way. We are social animals and the ability to talk to colleagues and work together should not be lost in the working from home mix.

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10 Comments on “Working from home”

  1. localgov Says:

    Great post. I think the comments about the need to manage things differently is important – focussing on the outcomes and outputs rather than the time spent at a desk would be a start.

    There are plenty of things that you need to do to get yourself ready to work from home though. Preparing your other half to know that you are actually working, likewise small children, ensuring access to files and systems, making sure you don’t get distracted; all of this and more is needed lest you end up “working” rather than working.

  2. LGWorker Says:

    Just ensure the builders don’t drill through an electric cable meaning you loose the internet and the briefing you know your colleague needs in 10 minutes time for a meeting with the Leader. This may have happened to me when working from home…

  3. Mark Stanley Says:

    Great post! I really like the discipline of being entirely mobile so I can work in the office or at home, or wherever (sadly my life mostly revolves around office and home, so have not yet managed to work from a yacht in St Lucia).

    I am good to work from home in a super productive way for a day or two. Preparing reports, presentations – any of the sit quietly and think/write work is perfect for home-work.

    …but I *need* interaction with other workers otherwise I start chewing the desk, and home working can become quite isolating. Skype helps a lot, even if it is typed messages rather than voice – people don’t like talking to their PCs in the office, but they will happily type.

  4. Sue Roberts Says:

    It’s astonishing how much work I can get done in a day at home. I too tend to work at home when I have a big ‘think’ task to do but would also benefit from a day to catch up and deal with more routine work without distraction. It might be an idea for teams to organise themselves to ‘release’ colleagues to work from home on a regular basis. Obviously, evidence of output would help to fend off criticism and / or suspicion. one day / fortnight at home = 10% less commuting . My managers are totally reasonable about working from home but it would be good to see it more ‘formalised’.

  5. Ken Eastwood Says:

    Nice post. I’m a big advocate of the flexible approach to work – you’re absolutely right about one size not fitting all.

    I was a board member of Project Nomad (the eGov project promoting mobile working in local government) and I founded as a successor membership community.

    I’m really passionate about this and genuinely believe that mobile & flexible working has yet to have its day in the UK. It’s interesting to see the progress being made in the states with the Obama administration legislating to make ‘telework’ mandatory across federal agencies, recognising the benefits in terms of reductions in travel (carbon) and increased resilience to emergencies (including snow, influenza and terrorism). I’d love to see a similar approach in the UK.

    In local government our spending constraints may achieve the same result – it seems to me reducing our asset base and travel expenditure, whilst also improving employee work life balance, has to be pretty high up the list when it comes to making savings. The present environment can change perceptions and remove or at least reduce some of the cultural opposition to change of this nature. Here’s hoping.


  6. localgovsecondment worker Says:

    I liked your post too, however, we have to get the access to the specific authority’s route into their email and access to the correct drives and folders right for it to really work, I have experienced being locked out of the system I use if I incorrectly enter a password just once! And then there is the debate that some people use that the council should pay for their broadband connection!

    I love working from home, but have to wait a year or two more before kids are at school because they are looked after at home and if I dare tread foot in the house and try to work, all hell breaks loose and nothing gets done, so a quite office space is great for me!

    Keep up the good posts

  7. Tom Phillips Says:

    Nice thought provoker. I work in the community in a part of our patch well away from my notional base a lot of the time, but live only about a mile from that base. This means I get no carparking at base. Working spells from home is, for me, common sense. Otherwise I’d be going in to the office, doing a few minutes then walking home again before driving off to my work area.

    WAH Is only properly possible for me with good web and e mail at home. Sadly, being a Mac user, work forces me to use Outlook Express Light for mail and a virtually dysfunctional home-grown product supposed to give access to stored documents etc. I know I could be far more productive with proper tools, but I believe the lingering remnant of the attitudes described in your article still mean that funding and supporting remote working (home or otherwise) is a low priority.

  8. […] Home working is considered part of your ‘employee duty’ rather than a part of the work life […]

  9. […] Working from home (source) […]

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