Working from home – the pros and cons

by 15 May 2007

Q. I am considering working from home, and would like to present this to my employer giving a balanced view of the pros and cons. From the experiences of your candidates and clients, what information can you provide me?

A. There is definitely increasing pressure these days for employers to offer the option of working from home. Overall, it is not as popular as we had expected it would become by now.

More employers are building these practices into their infrastructures although you are right to consider the pros and cons. There are advantages and disadvantages for both parties. For instance, in the case of employees, the advantages are fairly obvious in creating work life balance and dictating your own hours of work.

The disadvantages are perhaps more subtle, and have become clearer over time. Not all employees actually respond well to working at home: you may miss the motivation and team ethos of an office based job. This isolation can have a really detrimental effect if there is a significant creative element in the role, or currency with other projects. Another problem is that you may end up working longer hours. Finally, training or picking things up from colleagues and mentoring are taken for granted and missed when working remotely.

There are also a number of advantages for employers. Pressure on space and facilities has increased. The cost of housing an employee can be prohibitive and working from home is one way past this problem. Other issues include accommodating mothers returning to work. As we all know, childcare is expensive and it can be difficult for some mothers to justify returning to work given the cost of care. By offering telecommuting, employers can retain the knowledge and intellectual property held by these employees and utilise their talent productively, increasing loyalty and reducing staff turnover.

Disadvantages include the cost of set up which may be prohibitive. Not everyone has a PC at home that is sufficient to do the work required, so the employer may need to invest in equipment. Does the employer want that equipment off the premises? If the employee is sick or on leave it is redundant and cannot be used by another employee. How would documents be printed?

There are also fairly major security issues to consider if network access is needed. Although firewalls are becoming more sophisticated, such protection is needed at every point of entry into a network to truly guard against computer fraud, and that level of security is not cheap to implement.

It should also be highlighted to your employer that they have a duty of care to ensure that your workplace is safe. If you are to work from home, they may want to undertake an OHS workplace inspection to ensure your safety.

Considering the emphasis on company culture these days, the less tangible disadvantage is that companies rely on employees to drive and impart the culture of the operation and this is potentially lost when an employee is offsite. These issues can be overcome, but it is a case of making sure all the bases are covered and the best solutions are developed for your particular requirements.

The major issues that need to be considered by employers before implementing this kind of structure are:

• Tasks are picked carefully.

• Pick the people carefully. Go for those individuals you know will be able to be self-sufficient and manage themselves well.

• Try to evaluate all the risks and measure them up against the benefits. Trial it as a pilot with one or two employees before you get the whole company involved.

By Nicole Isaacs, regional director, Hays Human Resources