The barriers to mass homeworking are being knocked down by technology advances that are de-risking HR compliance and processes.
“I work from home.” This simple statement opens up a Pandora’s Box of images and misconceptions – many of which are negative.
Even though homeworking has been around seemingly forever, it is commonly perceived as an alternative to the traditional office, used by one man bands, freelancers, writers, maverick entrepreneurs and other niche career choices and businesses. It’s also commonly used as a perquisite for senior executives, especially ones who travel often or commute from far distances.
The above describes what we call Homeworking 1.0. However, behind the scenes of many British businesses, we are now embarking on a complete step change which is making homeworking a reality for hundreds of thousands of people. Welcome to Homeworking 2.0.
The next generation homeworking is now being used by some of the largest and most successful businesses. And this uptake is being driven by our ability to de-risk homeworking from the typical issues normally associated with homeworking by systemising and virtualising the employee lifecycle. In short, we have created an employee-centric “ecosystem” which evidences employee behaviour, customer interactions and events. While this may seem a bit “Big Brother,” it isn’t a departure from the typical monitoring currently used within a traditional contact centre, and it’s a mute point for serious employees who want the freedom to work from home.
Virtual HR practices are pivotal to overcoming one of the major barriers – trusting employees when they are out of sight of management. We now can easily identify who is working, what they are doing and measure productivity, which means that it’s become a non-issue in the homeworking sphere. All the traditional ‘people’ activities – from recruitment to performance management, are now effectively performed virtually.
As such, once this ecosystem is protected, homeworking can be extended across a business – including customer service departments, administration and other common operational functions. When implemented correctly, it has been proven to be a viable, effective and highly efficient option – achieving much more than simply saving money on office space.
Technologyhas played a key part in the evolution of homeworking. Today, high-speed broadband and home computing are pervasive and key enablers for. The technology now exists to support every single imaginable business process virtually, while providing employers with the highest levels of visibility, control, security, compliance, scalability and resilience.
However, it’s the HR benefits of Homeworking 2.0 that really capture the excitement. Given the virtual nature of homeworking, the very best people are sourced, recruited and then deployed, whatever the requirement. Through sophisticated virtual recruitment techniques, we can now find people who care, who are passionate about their work and have the closest possible experience and affinity with their employers’ requirements.
This means you now have the ability to compile a workforce from anywhere in the UK, based on your exact requirements. Using this, businesses such as the RAC and Aviva now have a highly diverse, skilled and agile workforce, hand-picked from across the country.
From a workforce and workload planning perspective, there are now useful scheduling applications where clients post their requirements and homeworkers self-roster their ‘shifts’ which can be as short as 30 minutes. This gives clients the ability to have extreme agility of resources whilst giving the homeworker the gift to build their workday around their lives. In contrast, in the bricks and mortar environment, people and businesses are stuck with four to eight hour shifts- both inflexible and inefficient.
The concept of building work around lifestyle brings the biggest benefit of all – a happier workforce. Homeworkers often can’t or don’t want to commute. With homeworking they are able to access rewarding employment, can effectively balance their work and their domestic responsibilities, and are also able to engage with real career development as if they were in a traditional workplace. This allows them to achieve a work / life balance that can’t be matched by traditional bricks-and-mortar operations. The payoff is that they appreciate the opportunity, and are therefore reliable, committed and loyal advocates.
Of course, there are always going to be a number of challenges to make homeworking a success. High on the list is engagement and cultural alignment. After all, outsourcing already creates a degree of separation between the business and the resource, so if you add homeworking, that’s now two degrees of separation.
Recognising this, we developed a number of techniques, with the help of technology, to bring back these two degrees. In essence, we now have the ability to give full “remote” control to businesses so that they have direct choice of resources when recruiting, and oversight and involvement live management. In a nutshell, our home-based agents are completely managed, motivated and rewarded with the use of remote technology. We also went as far as virtualising the ‘water cooler experience’ by creating virtual spaces to allow people to interact and have fun and introduced a weekly poll to measure sentiment of the agent, team, client and business levels to provide trending on everything from scheduling to satisfaction.
Another challenge is a requirement to keep skills and knowledge fresh without having to bring people into a physical space. We have seen that the virtual classroom is a highly effective training ground to prepare and delver courses and help homeworkers interact during training, assess understanding, access a vast course library and share knowledge between training events. Virtual team rooms also allow home workers to ‘break out’ in pairs or in teams to role play and/or complete assignments.
Finally, there is a risk that if homeworkers are “out of sight and out of mind” their skills and development will suffer. We got around this through proprietary tools, such as a virtual classroom with skills management automation which identifies potential skills gaps based on personal word clouds and quality assurance logs. This ensures that no-one is overlooked.
In conclusion, we have seen that Homeworking 2.0 is a saviour for businesses in their quest to find the best people with the right skills and attitude, and to keep staff performing, engaged and happy. Oh, and did we forget to mention that you save money on office space too?