So, what’s so awful about working from home? Or as the recent coverage about Yahoo has illustrated, letting your people work from home? After all, BT has actively encouraged legions of its staff to become home-based, seemingly without adverse effect while saving a fortune.
In addition, in a world where telecommuting is technologically feasible and organisations are increasingly concerned about the balance between home and work commitments, business leaders should welcome home working.
Not so at Yahoo apparently. And actually, the same is true for a lot of people that run businesses, particularly SMEs. The problem is, of course, leadership. While people can work in virtual offices, it’s hard to have insightful or meaningful conversations in cyberspace. And it’s very difficult to provide leadership without them – or while you’re at home.
Many people running organisations let themselves and their businesses down because they don’t know enough about what’s going on ‘at the sharp end’. Sacked football managers, for instance, often express surprise that there is unrest amongst the players. But what should they have done to find out? The answer is that when organisations are working well, it’s usually because its leaders are spending a lot of time in face-to-face conversations with a wide range of people. In an SME or equivalent, that usually means with the entire staff.
Home working is fantastic for tasks that require individual creativity or concentration and where communication from seniors is mostly in the form of briefings. Leadership activities such as: creating direction; getting understanding and buy-in; developing corporate unity; responding to events as they happen; role-modelling, or taking symbolic action, however, are much more effective when the leader is in close proximity with his or her people.
This means that the questions home working generate are not actually about home working; they’re about the frequency with which leaders talk or interact with people:
- What proportion of your time is spent talking with your people?
However much it is, it’s probably inadequate, so:
- How could you increase the amount of time you spend talking with your people?
And, of course, it has to be productive conversation or it’s a waste of your time and theirs.