Anne Sharp: Holding on or letting go? Learning to trust the homeworker
Wednesday 09 July 2014In our blog series on homeworking, Anne Sharp, Acas Chief Executive, talks about the rise of homeworking.
Anne Sharp has been the Acas Chief Executive since February 2013. Prior to joining Acas, Anne was the Chief Executive Officer of the Judicial Offices based in the Royal Courts of Justice.
Homeworking is on the rise.
The Office for National Statistics, estimates that 4.2 million people in the UK are homeworkers: just under 14 per cent of the working population, and the highest rate of homeworking since records began in 1998. Two thirds of homeworkers are self-employed, leaving 1.4 million homeworkers who are employees.
When the London School of Economics did a survey of the whole of Acas, 46% of respondents confirmed that they work from home on a regular basis. With 11% of Acas staff working as designated homeworkers, we clearly have a vested interest in making it work for us. But what would we say to an organisation that is considering introducing homeworking?
Although the research we commissioned only looks at the experience of our own staff and managers, it gives us a useful insight into some of the key issues (you can find a summary of the main findings in a policy paper we have just published).
We found that technology, communications and effective management were important elements of success. But while Acas managers rated well on trust, for many this can be an insurmountable problem in managing homeworkers.
Managers may feel more confident with their colleagues in sight. This isn't necessarily just about keeping an eye on people: it often reflects a commitment to coaching staff, sharing experience and building a team.
On the other hand, homeworkers may be perceived as falling short as team members, not prepared to muck in, at risk of becoming isolated and of failing to separate work and home life, so that either or both suffer.
Yet we know from research studies that homeworkers are often more engaged, productive and have a greater sense of job satisfaction than their office-based colleagues. There seems to be no evidence that concerns about trust are justified.
This sounds a bit like a tug of war between the merits of home and office working. However, our research and experience tell us that the question is more about achieving the right balance. In Acas, those with the highest job satisfaction are the flexible workers, who spend a significant amount of time in the office and the rest working at or from home.
The recipe for success depends on the situation: for some organisations, people and roles, homeworking works brilliantly. There's no single answer - but establishing clear expectations, regular communication and contact are always important and provide the basis for trust. And when things aren't going well, having the confidence and skills to handle honest conversations helps avoid problems escalating.
So, perhaps we should simply accept that home and flexible working are a welcome part of modern working life and instead debate whether our workplace relationships and line manager skills are at the level we need in managing these different arrangements.
As the Acas research suggests: "managers must be willing and able to relinquish traditional notions of how best to manage performance - usually based on direct supervision - and adopt new ways of motivating and monitoring their staff."
Read other blogs in our homeworking series
Agile but fragile: The changing face of UK homeworking – what works best for whom? [150kb] - Acas Policy Discussion Paper by Andrew Sutherland