Quantity or quality - is working from home working?
IT and communications (ICT) companies have been at the forefront of the move towards home-working, and as a specialist ICT recruitment agency, Wilson Miller Resourcing sees both the corporate and contractor and employee sides of this quantity versus quality discussion.
Many of our clients across Europe, companies looking to fill various marketing vacancies, already have flexible working policies in place. They appear to be seeing productivity increases as well as cost reductions as a result of home-working, and would like to reap even more quantifiable benefits.
Meanwhile, our recent poll of ICT marketers revealed that the vast majority of respondents were able to choose to work from home at least one day a week, and that almost a third wanted to do so more often. So everyone in the industry’s happy about working from home, then? Well, not quite.
But before addressing why, let’s first look at what’s driven the growth in home-working over recent years.
There’s no doubt that home-working has grown in parallel to broadband usage. The capacity and speed that broadband delivers certainly make it much easier to work efficiently from home. And thanks to continuing technology improvements, people working away from their normal base can now gain access to the increasingly complex collaborative working packages available, as well as stay in touch (and exchange large multimedia files and other attachments) via email.
The cost savings and productivity gains that result from companies encouraging staff to work from home help perpetuate the trend. For example, Dave Wilson - BT’s head of employment policy - says that the company’s achieved enormous savings since introducing more flexibility into the workplace, partly because it now rents or owns fewer offices in expensive city locations and also has to pay out less in travel expenses.
He also claims that BT’s productivity has rocketed by 20% since its policy change - a figure thought to be too high by the industry marketers responding to our poll. Respondents also expressed a concern that while working from home may increase the quantity of work, quality of work may be suffering at the same time.
So what are the realities of working from home?
The truth about home-working
With Europe in the middle of the international time zone, ICT marketers (and others in the industry) are able to wake up early and communicate with the technology hot-bed that is Japan and the rest of the Far East. Often, they’re also expected to add on extra hours at the end of their ‘normal’ day to collaborate with the US - particularly if their colleagues are based in Silicon Valley or other west coast locations.
Although the respondents to our poll claimed an average daily saving of two hours when they worked from home and didn’t commute, this was negated by these same days being extended by up to two hours. As a Marketing Manager for a software vendor said, "Most of the time, working from home means a longer day. You start earlier and generally work through, with limited interruptions."
While the ‘back-to-back’ meeting culture predominates (and ICT companies continue to produce the communication and technology tools that allow this to happen), we’re likely to continue seeing productivity improvements - in terms of the number of meetings crammed into the day, the volume of emails sent and received, and so on.
Our poll of industry marketers certainly showed that these measurements of output are rising, but also revealed that individuals are increasingly using their home-working time to focus on delivering quality as well as quantity.
ICT marketing professionals - as well as marketers in other industries - need to build this "quality time" into their days and weeks. This is the essential space that all creatively-minded people need in order to think innovatively about their projects, markets, short-term tactics or longer-term strategies.
Marketing is all about fresh thinking and creativity. Companies must challenge people to think differently about the products and services they’re using - and to act differently too. To move a prospect towards becoming a customer, or encourage an existing customer to spend more and remain loyal, means battling constantly against resistance and disinterest as well as the competing messages from direct and indirect rivals.
To cut through these barriers, communication professionals have to be able to make their marketing stand out - by thinking differently about how to approach the market, what products and services to offer, and what messages to convey. Essentially then, it’s a question of creativity.
One respondent, a Senior Marketer at a major telecoms provider, confirmed the proposition by claiming that in order "to really concentrate on something such as writing a document, proposal or presentation, working from home is the answer."
Another, the Marcoms Manager for a multinational software vendor, agreed: "If I’m copywriting, I can do more at home uninterrupted and in the right surroundings. But for ploughing through a big workload, I prefer to be in the office." In other words, the office is the place for quantity; the home the ideal location for quality.
Clearly then, employers need to recognise the importance to marketers of having these spaces in the working day (or week) - particularly if they want their marketing communications to show a spark of creativity and resonate with their intended audiences. And that means having the ability to ‘let go’ of their marketing staff and not expect them to be contactable at all times.
One respondent, a Business Development Manager with a leading VAR, summed up the existing situation by saying, "My boss doesn’t like it when I switch off my mobile and Instant Messenger at home, because she can’t get in touch with me. But that’s the only time I have to think creatively about my work, and when I come up with the new ideas that she does like."
So, Wilson Miller Resourcing is by no means advocating a state of near-permanent holiday for marketing personnel - far from it. Rather, we believe that it’s important for ICT companies to balance their natural desire for higher productivity against the need for "quality thinking time".
But are things likely to change?
20% and rising
Our survey showed that most ICT marketers believe "it’s now the norm to be able to work from home" - an attitude that’s certainly reflected in most predictions about the workplace in general.
According to Radio 4’s "Working from Home" series, an estimated 20% of the working population will be earning a living from home by 2012 - and there are already websites catering to the needs of the home-worker (Cick here: Workwise information and Enterprisenation )
For managers across all industries, including ICT, one of the key issues of the next five years will revolve around the difficulties of controlling projects when team members work from home and/or form virtual teams (a subject we’ll return to in a later edition of Up Close). Another will be balancing the push for productivity improvements with the need to retain staff and ensure they remain happy and committed.
For individual workers, including marketers, the main concerns will be about achieving equality between life at home and working from home, and being able to create the time they need for fresh thinking.
Wilson Miller Resourcing believes that both excellence and capacity can be achieved, and that employers and employees can be equally satisfied with the arrangement.
Quality and quantity needn’t be mutually exclusive, so long as employers and employees agree on where to find the right balance between "anywhere, anytime" availability and the necessity for "do not disturb" working periods, as well as leisure and enjoyment completely free of any interference from the office.
What do you think?
How often do you work from home? Are you more productive there than you are in the office?
We want to know what you think about this issue, so answer our simple question below or email email@example.com with your own home-working experiences.