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Lack of 'passive face time' puts homeworkers at disadvantage

Imagine two employees working for the same organisation. One works the traditional 9 to 5 in the office, the other works predominantly from home. They are both conscientious workers, and equally productive.

But when it comes to how they are seen by the supervisors, the office-based worker is at a distinct advantage.

Passive face time

According to research, the act of being present in an office - something termed 'passive face time' - gives an 'optical illusion of productivity'.

Just being seen in the office, regardless of what's being done, leads supervisors and colleagues 'to think more highly of an office-based employee', as the Acas Policy Discussion Paper pdf icon Agile but fragile: The changing face of UK homeworking – what works best for whom? [150kb], which discusses the evidence, puts it.

Visible workers tend to be credited with being responsible and dependable, and if they put in overtime, then they appear to be committed and dedicated too.

Homeworkers disadvantaged

The flipside is that those who aren't visible, such as homeworkers, do not get such positive appraisals.

The absence of passive face time has been found to 'negatively influence the perceived fitness of employees for specific tasks such as team leadership'.

The 'professional isolation' experienced by many homeworkers can lead to lower performance evaluations and fewer promotions.

A question of trust

The phenomenon that makes this disparity possible has been identified to be 'the greatest barrier to homeworking success'. 

The need of managers to physically see their employees working is essentially a lack of trust in a worker's ability to get on with the job unseen.

And yet, research has shown that homeworkers are often better performing and more productive than their office-bound peers.

There is a twist in the tale, however. In one study, homeworkers were found to be far less likely to state that having a career was important to their sense of identity, or to be so interested in advancing their careers.

In other words, many saw their professional isolation not as a problem, but just as part of a working arrangement that gave them the work-life balance they wanted.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published pdf icon Homeworking - a guide for employers and employees [272kb], which outlines the employment rights and relations issues involved in working from home.

pdf icon The right to request flexible working: an Acas guide [186kb] is good practice guidance designed to employers and employees handle the statutory right to request flexible working. It's a companion guide to the Acas statutory code of practice.

Acas also offers practical training courses on Flexible working, including on how to handle requests in a reasonable manner, and Skills for supervisors, to improve management and people skills.

For free, impartial advice on flexible working, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 or consult Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.


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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.

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