5 reasons WFH pays: How to boost workforce productivity

Written by Professional Academy guest bloggers, Nicki Hayes and Shari Bollers

Recent research by the Office of National Statistics found that nearly a quarter of British workers would rather work from home one day a week than receive a pay rise, while seven million[1] admit they suffer from “procrastination or inertia issues” when working in an office.

[1] Percentage of 31.4 million employed people in Britain. Source: Office for National Statistics 2016.

While employee engagement gurus tout ways to increase workforce productivity, it seems there is one quick and convincing winner: sending staff home. Yet, while home working is succeeding as an employee incentive for many organisations, some still hold the belief that working from home invites an abuse of trust, questioning  ‘But will our employees really be getting their work done?’

Trust is a two way street, and the evidence is plentiful: trust your people, give them the tools and guidelines to work from home and they will repay your trust with more than just productivity: they will repay your trust in the following five ways.

1. Home working decreases absenteeism

An annual report survey, ‘Absence Management’, undertaken by CIPD in partnership with Simplyhealth provides some interesting findings on workplace absenteeism. The analysis is based on replies from 578 organisations across the UK in reference to 1.5 million employees. Last year the average level of employee absence had increased slightly compared with 2014, from 6.6 to 6.9 days per employee, although it remains lower than in 2013 (7.6 days).

The most common reasons for absenteeism include sickness (stress, mental and physical health), bullying, childcare issues, flexibility and work-life balance. When the estimated cost of absence to UK employers is around £550 per employee per year, it’s worth looking for ways around these issues.

Working from home during many such times (so long as the employee is well enough, of course), impacts positively on moral and on stress levels.  It’s not a coincidence that fewer people call in sick to organisations with such flexible working practices.

2. Home-working increases employee retention

Employees leaving cost companies time and money. Harvard Business Review evidences how, by simply enabling employees to work from home, organisations are reducing staff turnover. Home working is now worth more than a pay-rise to many people, and they think twice before jumping boat to an organisation without this benefit. The same logic works when it comes to recruitment: many organisations are losing talent, not because of pay, but because of the opportunity offered by alternative employers to, on occasions, work from home.

3. Home-working improves employee engagement

In a recent article, Workers Get More done From Home, HR Manager shared some reasons why employees are more engaged when out of the office. Our own experience echoes that, at home, people are less easily distracted by sounds, office politics, tea break gossip or the office attention seeker.

Hppy also reports research by Gallup, revealing that working remotely breeds higher engagement, but, interestingly, only in the case of employees who spend less than 20% of their total working time doing so.

Maybe this is because of lack of face-to-face time?  Face-to-face communication is, after all, key to engagement. Keeping home workers in the loop helps them feel less isolated and gives team members a chance to brainstorm and bond. So, setting aside time for a regular catch up with your home workers is wise.

4. Home-working improves employee wellbeing

Your employees are looking for a better work/life balance. The opportunity to work from home affords them a better lifestyle and encourages a more positive outlook. Mental Health.org  estimates that nearly three in every ten employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year. The recent and dramatic rise in Britain's working hours suggests this is likely to increase. A key way to protect employees’ mental health against work related stress is by ensuring they have a healthy work-life balance.

Working from home enables this. Employees are able to manage their own time and schedule with less stress. Think about it: when in the office, or on the road, we often have little control over what we eat, how much we spend and when we can take a natural break. Working from home can make all the difference, giving us greater control over our own health and fitness, enabling us to plan lunches, go to the gym, go for a walk or take a short break from the screen.

5. Home-working boosts productivity

In the UK, nearly six in 10 (57%) workers believe they get more done working from home, according to research by online retailer CartridgePeople.com. The study of 1,096 British workers, titled the SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) Workers Report, found that just 5% reported that working from home had a negative effect on their productivity with only 12% feeling they were more easily distracted at home.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, according to an article in Bloomberg, a study was carried our with nurses, who, for a year, worked six-hour days on an eight-hour salary. Guess what? Their productivity increased, as did the quality of care for patients. The nurses reported increases in happiness and energy levels too.

Apply the same logic to working from home. We both know that we find it far easier to enter a state of flow, hone into our various tasks for the day and achieve higher levels of output and satisfaction when working from home. We know that we get more done. We also know that the confidence we have gained through having to manage ourselves has enabled us to achieve consistently higher performance rates.

In conclusion…

Reduced absenteeism; improved retention, improved engagement, improved wellbeing and improved productivity: that’s quite a strong business case for home working. Enabling it though, takes more than just adding a paragraph to your employee benefits page on your intranet, job descriptions and induction guides. It requires providing employees with the right technology, as well as some guidelines on how to stay on track.

As home workers, we’ve had plenty of practice at identifying productivity killers and establishing motivation mantras to keep us on track. More about these in our next blog …

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