Strip the taboo from home working

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steve simmance quote web

We can track every movement and step staff take when working remotely. We can communicate with them using the latest technology. We’ve trained them to know their responsibilities, even when thousands of miles away.

So why then, in the majority of grocery employers, is working from home such a mute subject? Is it because, despite trusting our employees to be our brand ambassadors, use highly confidential data, apply their intellect and common sense to make decisions, etc, we don’t quite trust them to actually work when they are at home?

Working from home avoids a daily commute while carrying out tasks that can be done anywhere with modern tech. Moreover, home working can hugely benefit performance in achieving parts of the job that require thoughtful, mindful reflection and concentration.

However, when the subject of home working is raised within companies it is the subject of much (often heated and emotional) debate. Yet, if the policy makers explored how home working could benefit a firm, there might be appreciation of its value in modern ways of working and empowering employees.

With today’s overcrowded roads, railways and offices, home working ranks among one of the highest motivators for jobseekers. Time and time again as an fmcg recruiter I have seen how grocery industry candidates analyse and weigh up their next employer by the benefits they offer, comparing the value of a home working policy for them as individuals, over, say private healthcare cover. Ironically, home working doesn’t cost the employer anything; healthcare, life assurance, do.

The view is that ‘pyjama working’ is not a conducive environment for productivity, it is potentially divisive, the employee would not work their official hours, and so it is basically skiving. How can it be that employers trust their employees to be surrounded every day by private information and intellectual property, be that financial or marketing collateral, blueprint innovation and trade secrets, but by contrast they aren’t trusted to work in their home?

A time and motion study would almost certainly demonstrate how much time is disturbed by the general hubbub of the office and therefore wasted. But it almost doesn’t matter, because the employee teams are visible, irrelevant of their productivity.

There are exceptions: fmcg companies that don’t have a policy as such but an understood protocol where staff choose to occasionally work from home when deemed necessary to get a task done.

It becomes a matter of trust and integrity. If research were conducted on home working, I would bet my bottom dollar that employee and consequently business productivity would result in higher performance and output in the long run.

Home working may result in fewer ‘official’ working hours at the desk, but almost certainly a far higher octane of effectiveness, especially use of time, achieving higher standards of quality work. What more can an employer ask for?

Steve Simmance is founder of The Simmance Partnership

Readers' comments (2)

  • My first career was in grocery retail, and although it was years ago, this doesn't surprise me. I've never worked in a sector where "presenteeism" is so rife. A lot of the time, the people who "got on" and progressed were those most visible to management and not necessarily the most productive. This lead to very unhealthy working practices, and lots of unnecessary unpaid hours.

    I've been a freelancer and home worker for well over a decade (I even promote home working at https://www.homeworkingclub.com , and have seen numerous industries take to home working, but I can't see retail ever being one that embraces it.

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  • I recently turned down a Senior Supply Chain job because the business would not allow home working (only “when required for good reason”). Consumers expect retailers to be more flexible and agile in satisfying their wants; the retailers pass this on to the suppliers, the suppliers pass it on to their staff. I’m expected to be flexible and agile, only a phone call away at any time, and you know I’m happy to be so. Now I’m challenging my employer to be the same for me, flexible and agile, and if they can’t then I’ll go where they can.

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