Working from home can prove an attractive benefit for both IT staff and their employer – as long as the individual and their role are carefully assessed.
Nothing prepares someone for a productive day’s work like sitting in a traffic jam for an hour with their blood pressure slowly rising. Unless it is being squeezed into a commuter train sardine-fashion and breathing in fellow passengers’ diseases.
Some people, for whom neither of these scenarios appeals, prefer to stay at home and start their working day in a more relaxed fashion. With better communication technologies, IT staff have become more accustomed to supporting the growing trend for home working than doing it themselves. However, IT departments are gradually realising the benefits of home working for at least some of their staff.
Owen Williams, head of IT for estate agents Knight Frank, said that home working can be effective for some IT staff. “We do not have a formal policy on home working, but we do allow it because it suits some people providing they are in the right role,” he said.
Project managers and business analysts were often appropriate candidates to work some days from home, because it gave them more uninterrupted time to create detailed strategies and planning documents, Williams said.
In some cases, allowing people to work from home could also save them more than an hour’s commute, he said. “People can also be up to three-times more productive when doing something that involves a lot of concentration without any interruption. But you need the right individual and the right kind of work,” Williams said.
Spending one day a week working from home provides relief from the drudgery of commuting, according to James McCauley, senior Java developer with Corelogic, which builds case-management software for council social services departments.
McCauley normally works from home one day a week by coordinating with the company’s HR manager and his line manager. “For me the advantage is it cuts out two-and-a-half hours commuting each day so I can spend more time working and when I finish at six, I’m at home.
“It also lets you concentrate on a particular piece of work. We support a lot of clients from the same office and people will come to your desk to ask questions. You can be interrupted at any moment,” he said.
McCauley also finds he can start work in a better frame of mind when working at home. “If you have a bad run in, you can get into the office fuming and it takes a while to calm down. At home you can just have a cup of tea and sit down to work.”
For Corelogic, flexible and home working has allowed for rapid expansion, McCauley said. “The main benefit for the business is that we are expanding quickly and have filled up the office. If everybody came in at once there would not be space.”
Hotdesking allows Corelogic staff who travel in to the office to make the most effective use of office space, he said.
Despite the advantages of flexible working being well known, old attitudes to management are still preventing employers from allowing IT staff to work from home on some days, said Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Workwise UK, a not-for-profit organisation promoting flexible and home working.
“The concept has been around for years, but the amount of the population that is using smarter working is low. One of the biggest blockers is this concept that we work from nine to five, Monday to Friday. And employers think, ‘If I cannot see you, how do I know you are working?’
“The key thing is changing how we manage people, moving from a model to manage input to the business, to managing their output. Businesses should move to manage people’s achievement rather than the hours they work,” Flaxton said.
As well as benefiting staff and the department, flexible working can help with the age old problem of recruiting and retaining women in IT, he said.
“Many women who have IT skills drop out because of families. By working from home, either permanently or two or three days a week, it will encourage women to come back to work after having children. If you have spent a lot of money training somebody you do not want them to leave and not come back,” he said.
However, some IT roles are not suited to regular working from home, according to Ben Booth, chief information officer at market research firm Mori and chairman of the British Computer Society’s Elite Group. “A lot of IT people are working closely with internal or external clients, so working from home is not terribly practical,” he said.
Even so, some employees enjoy flexible working and others have the occasional day at home. “We base our consideration on the merits of the individual case and the work in hand. Some people work part-time or alter their hours at the beginning or the end of the day to suit their circumstances and business needs. If we are more flexible then people will rather stay with us than go somewhere else. We are also required by law to offer flexible working.”
Booth said IT departments should take a cautious approach to home working. “At certain points in a project a day at home for quiet concentration is good if it suits the circumstances or the job, but do not forget the fact that face-to-face contact is very important,” he said.
The path to working from home
- Separate work into client-facing work and solo development work or project planning
- Offer a trial period to demonstrate how much more productive you can be at home doing solo work
- Find other people in the IT department with home working arrangements and find out how they negotiated itl Use research to put together a business case for home and flexible working