The rise and rise of fast and ubiquitous internet connectivity already helps over seven million British ‘teleworkers’ do their job away from the office for some or all of the time. But is working from home (or wherever takes your fancy!) right for you? Taking a telecon in a hip café; commuting ten paces to work in your pyjamas; fitting a trip to the gym into a long lunch hour… what’s not to like about the attractive and endlessly flexible ways of modern remote working? But is the grass really as green as it looks? Here are a few things to consider if you are considering asking (or being told by your employer) to telework.
First of all, it is important that the remote working you request or agree to has mutual benefits for both you and your employer. Remote workers can look forward to saving time on commuting, and having more control over their working time, often helping them to reconcile work and home life. This can be particularly valuable if you are a parent juggling the school run and myriad other family responsibilities. Other benefits to workers include:
- the potential to work virtually anywhere you want – whether that’s home, co-working offices or public spaces (either via wi-fi hotspots or 4G technology, which now allows teleworkers to tether laptops and other devices to their mobile phone for portable internet access wherever they go);
- freedom from the time-consuming distractions of the office (e.g. interruptions by colleagues, meetings, etc.); and
- contact with other teleworkers from other fields outside the office ‘silo’ (e.g. in co-working spaces) could help stimulate more creative approaches to your own work.
Employers can also benefit. For example, they can save on desk space to cut office overheads, and create a more agile workforce. And there is growing evidence that trusting staff to organise themselves effectively to do their job can boost morale, nurture greater responsibility and pride in their work, and ultimately deliver better results for companies and organisations.
Clearly, there are some great benefits to teleworking for both employees and employers. But you should weight these against the pitfalls of teleworking, particularly if you hope to be doing it full-time. Here are just a few:
- People working from home often find themselves going ‘stir-crazy’ after a day or two away from the social life of the office. A desk in a co-working space or ‘pop-up’ office a couple of days a week can restore some of the social contact you need. Or you might negotiate an arrangement with your employer to hot-desk regularly in your workplace, or schedule a weekly ‘day of meetings’.
- While you are spending time alone, you also risk slowly losing some of the workplace social and professional skills you need to keep acquiring to develop in your career. Make sure you take full advantage of training and development opportunities your employer can offer you.
- Do you have good self-discipline? Slipping into bad work habits is very easy without a traditional work structure around you. Set yourself some rules up front. For example: always dress for work; start and finish at the time you have agreed with yourself and have a proper lunch break; and resist the temptation to work longer hours.
- Flexible working needs boundaries and it’s easy (paradoxically, because you are not physically there) for your colleagues to assume you are absolutely flexible and perpetually ‘on call’. Talk to your manager if they or other staff are treating your time differently as a result of your teleworking.
Teleworking: your rights
Under UK law, anyone with at least 26 weeks’ service with the same employer has the right to request flexible working, and have their request given serious consideration. However, don’t expect to necessarily get what you want: although millions class themselves as some-time teleworkers, a YouGov survey for Virgin found that only 24% of office-based workers were able to work remotely as often as they liked. If you're in a union, talk to them about your options as they can help you make your case. Conversely, unless teleworking is written into your contract or job description, you cannot be forced to change to teleworking – there must be mutual voluntary agreement between you and your employer. And on the general principle that people should not be forced to telework, if you have started to telework but found it isn’t for you, you should be able to change your mind.
With remote working fast becoming a mainstay of British working practices, it’s important to get the full picture. There is lots more legal and practical advice about teleworking to explore on workSMART, including information on health and safety, equipment, support, tax and expenses, and much more.