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Rebecca George: Homeworking - the value and the risks

Thursday 17 July 2014

In our blog series on homeworking, Rebecca George, Deloitte, talks about the the value and the risks of homeworking.

Rebecca George OBE MA MSc FBCS CITP

Rebecca leads Deloitte's Public Sector Health practice in the UK and is co-leader of Deloitte's global health care strategy. Rebecca has been involved in activities to increase the participation of Women in the IT industry since the mid-1990s. She is a VP and Trustee at the Chartered Institute for IT.

Rebecca George

During my career, I have worked at opposite ends of the spectrum.

I was based at home for nearly three years in the early 1990s, with a 'Russian television set' on my desk and a dedicated separate (very slow) phone line for my computer to use. I was working for a large technology corporation at the time, and they had a very laissez faire approach to working at home but they had a really rigorous appraisal process. Everyone had a small number of binary, measurable objectives. You had to achieve your objective but how and where you did it was up to you.

As an aside, when I left that large technology multi-national, I hadn't had a desk or office for 8 years. My work stuff was all at home, and magically when I had to move home I found I only had two small boxes of vital documents from my office. I binned the rest and never missed it. I had a drawer and when I opened it before I left it had two pairs of shoes and two bottles of champagne in it.

In the noughties, I joined Deloitte at a time when the then CEO had a mantra, 'if you are not teaming with your client, you should be teaming with your team'. I moved into an office (and filled it, of course, over time) and got used to being in it. A lot.

I think both approaches are wrong. Too much home working doesn't work. People get isolated, miss out on the informal information exchanges and brainstorming that happens in the office. They miss out on the gossip, who is doing what, how Susan's father is doing and what Greg said in his annual appraisal. They miss out on how to interpret management, culture or strategy changes, or the introduction of new services to clients. Video conferences, Webexs and email all have their place and are important - but they don't replace a chat over a cup of coffee.

Too much presenteeism doesn't work either. Everyone needs to work to live, get away from the office, have some thinking time. Have some time when they aren't interrupted, or can spend all day catching up on the phone if that's what they need to do. They need to be able to do some of the things that work interferes with - go to the dentist, plan a holiday or go to the bank. They need to get back some of the very long days they spend in the office or the hours checking email over the weekend. Most importantly, they need to believe that they can make the decision to work at home at a time when they are going to be more productive and it isn't going to interfere with client or work responsibilities - but enhance them.

Deloitte has changed enormously over the last 8 years. We now have an approach which creates the best possible mix. High quality offices around the country with a variety of working and meeting spaces, IT infrastructure which provides the same experience anywhere, and a culture which supports people making their own decisions about where and how they work as long as their clients come first.

Hybrid is good. I like a mix, working in my (shared) office, working from home, working on the train (like right now), working in a coffee shop, at a client's, or in a railway station waiting room. And from time to time walking away from my computer and calling my dogs and going for a walk.

Read other blogs in our homeworking series

Anne Sharp: Holding on or letting go? Learning to trust the homeworker

Richard Fox: Acas - your flexible friend

Sarah Jackson: It's not just about homeworking

Homeworking information from Acas

Acas guidance on homeworking

pdf  Homeworking - a guide for employers and employees [263kb]


  • Posted by David Webb, Acas writer/editor  |  23 July 2014, 10:23AM

    Hi Rebecca,

    From a personal standpoint as a homeworker at the moment, I couldn’t agree more that a mixture of working from home, the office, or wherever business takes me works best.

    I really appreciate the opportunity to work from a quiet environment at home which best suits drafting new workplace relations guidance.

    I look forward to not working from home, too - to meet face-to-face with colleagues or catch up with managers at an Acas office, or to travel to where business takes me.

    In fact, Acas guidance points out that employees reporting the greatest job satisfaction and work-life balance are those who work from home some of the time and from the employer’s base the rest, or who work at different locations including home. 

    Those combinations can also prove to be the best blend from the employer’s point of view, with the organisation benefiting from increased productivity while team relationships remain effective and some overheads can be reduced.

    But while you say that ‘too much homeworking doesn’t work’, there are businesses who would take issue with that and whose success is built primarily around homeworking, or they have at least some staff who work at home for nearly all of their time.  For example, the Acas guidance includes case studies of two small firms – Zircon Management Consulting and retail business Cuddledry – which are based largely on homeworking.

    I think it all comes down to what best suits the needs of a particular organisation and trying to fit in with the personal needs of the employee where it can.

  • Posted by Monica Wells  |  28 August 2014, 9:23AM

    I was a homeworker for the last 5 years. Actually most of the staff worked from home almost all the time. It worked rather well for me but not for other employees. Some had serious problems with focus and find it very difficult to motivate themselves, which was not the case when they worked from the office. I cannot but agree with you, Rebecca, that too much home working is no good at all. For me the perfect professional mixture is work from home combined with some from the employer’s base as David observed. Now I'm again a happy stay-at-home worker successfully developing a brand new business startup

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