By Ollie Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Noddlepod
Home working is undoubtedly on the rise, with statistics showing that over 4.2m of us now work from home – equivalent to 13.7% of UK workers1. And it’s a trend that’s likely to continue with predictions estimating that as many of 60% of the workforce could be home workers by 20222. There’s even a ‘national home working day’ dedicated to it3 and, since 2014 the right for employees to request flexible working – which includes requests to work from home alongside more flexible working patterns – has been an option for all employees, not just those with young children4.
The rise in popularity is, in part, due to the benefits for both the employee and employer agreeing to a home working arrangement for part, or even all of the working week. For employees, these benefits include avoiding lengthy and expensive commutes, and making management of childcare arrangements much easier. As an employer, reduced overheads could make a big difference to the bottom line, with estimates that ‘workstation’ costs in the City of London cost in excess of £10,000 per employee5. And, far from slacking off, studies suggest that home workers are more productive, happier and less likely to quit their jobs than their office-based counterparts6.
While cost savings and happier employees are a clear business benefit, the long-term success of home working policies are reliant on a company’s (and its leaders’) ability to engage, motivate and communicate with employees regardless of their physical location. Although well-oiled internal communications and access to company email will facilitate the sharing of company updates, those achieving the greatest success will be the businesses who ensure employees can access the right information from wherever they work – not just a slimmed down version of what they see on an office computer.
In order to optimise output, employees need to be able to interact and share ideas with colleagues based in the office, at other locations or fellow home workers. While productivity at home might be higher, the benefit becomes diluted when locating the right information or documentation needed to progress work becomes an onerous task. Just as in an office setting, it might also be the case that not all ‘remote’ employees need or have authorisation to access all of the information – a crucial factor for businesses dealing with sensitive or personal customer information.
In many cases the ‘employees’ needing access to information and a space to share ideas may also include freelancers and contractors, whereby access requirements and authorisation to access files on a work network are different. Depending on the project at hand, employers may need to maintain the privacy and security of broader documents whilst facilitating the involvement of third party contributors in certain elements of a project.
So, how can this dichotomy of encouraging and facilitating home working to reap the benefits for employer and employee marry with the need to both share, enable and protect company data sources across a geographically diverse workforce?
The solution to us at Noddlepod was clear: utilise new digital technology to create a tool that has the ability not just to allow users to be ‘social’ and ‘talk’ but to actually share, collaborate and store, protect and find materials, from their computer, whether that be a desktop in a city centre office or a laptop at home in the countryside. While many businesses will be aware of ‘enterprise social networks’ and online ‘collaborative learning’ tools which are increasing in popularity, for us true engagement and facilitation of long term success meant additional features and structure – having filters that allow employees to search for content/files/discussions within a group – not just trawl back through ‘timelines’ for example.
Critics may argue that home working in the long term could risk leaving employees isolated and managers at risk of losing good staff who become unengaged, but statistics show that there is real value in nurturing the home working culture for all parties involved, and with the aid of technology that mimics the benefits of being in an office and connected to the main network whilst providing protection, there is no reason for the downsides to outweigh the positives.
Ollie Gardner is co-founder and CEO of Noddlepod
5 City of London, cost of workstation in excess of £10k p.a.