This idea was entered originally in the EU Social Innovation Competition May 2013 and can be seen on: http://socialinnovationcompetition.eu/423/
Firstly, a note on word selection: “Homeworking” is a familiar term but it is often associated with flitting from the laptop to the shops, to coffee with friends, to housework, the school run and the gym. Occasionally, you sit down to do some simple data entry. This is different. A room in the home becomes an office. You are not as regimented as 9 to 5 but you are certainly available during office hours. The work can range from administration to any sort of “knowledge transfer”, including management, and is transferred securely via the Cloud. You do go to meetings, chat with fellow workers and talk to the boss – it is just done by email and Skype (or similar). To distinguish the two, I have used “virtual work” rather than “homeworking” (or remote, teleworking etc).
The idea is for the Local Authority to include permanent virtual work as part of its employment practice. This can apply in three ways:
- Current “in-office” jobs and contracts, where appropriate and consensual, are converted to “out-of-office” virtual (or rotate 5 workers, say, around one desk with each having 4 days “out” and 1 day “in”);
- Vacancies and contract renewals arising from normal turnover, where appropriate, are fulfilled virtually;
- Research determines which jobs can be “disaggregated” into virtual and physical functions ie the number of virtual jobs can be increased by re-ordering job descriptions.
Direct savings arise from:
- Reduced office expenses (space, equipment, utilities) - including relocation to smaller, cheaper premises or rental income from freed space, as the proposed sale of Admiralty Arch, and the work of the Government Property Unit, exemplify. (Free space could be rented to emerging enterprises or even converted into a convenient work hub for local virtual workers.) You can get some idea of the savings through the Australian Government’s “telework” initiative on www.telework.gov.au, using the ROI tool.
- Access to a wider pool of competitive talent (including the disabled/incapacitated and, increasingly, carers for the elderly/infirm, many of whom are new referrals from ATOS to the Work Programme);
- Salary modification (new staff) to compensate for the absence of commuting costs;
Indirect savings arise from:
- Reduced carbon emissions in the absence of commuting ;
- Better job satisfaction and health, resulting in greater productivity.
The main issue, for the employer, revolves usually around trust and, for the employee, about isolation. Trust is becoming less of a problem as we are increasingly used to “living online”; in addition, flexi-work, shared services and outsourcing mean that managers are accustomed to more remote supervision of “outcome” rather than “process”. Because the plan involves relocating firstly existing staff (during which time all the “dos and donts” can be compiled on a blog like this one), recruiting new virtual staff might not represent such a large step. (See also “Help Wanted: The future of work in advanced economies”; McKinsey Global Institute March 2012).
The problem of isolation is addressed in “Remote work: An examination of current trends and emerging issues.” Busch, E., Nash, J., Bell, B. S. 2011 Ithaca, NY: Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University. The conclusion is that communication is key; if the physical office fully integrates the virtual, from the work itself to the “water-cooler” effect, problems diminish. It also helps to become part of a local community of virtual workers (not just from LG).
Please comment on the idea and the issues involved. Does your job have to be “in-office”? Would you be happy to work from home or to manage virtual workers? Is it a major culture change or just part of a process that is already underway? What technological problems do you foresee?
If there is enough interest and support…..