Why It’s Time for Working-from-Home to Grow Up

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Big shoes to fill child's feet in large grown-up black shoes There is no doubt that working remotely has come under attack lately. I refer to the recent announcement that one, very high profile, web enabled employer will be pulling the proverbial plug on home remote positions at the company.

But, the cracks in the remote worker paradigm may have been appearing for some time as a June 2012  survey by Citrx of 1,013 American office workers found that 43 percent of them watch TV or a movie and 20 percent play video games while they are officially working from home. It doesn’t end there as 24 percent of ‘homeworkers’ admit to having a drink while officially working, 26 percent take naps, 35 percent do household chores and 28 percent cook dinner. This study has confirmed some of the worst fears that some may have had about what people really do when they are working at home.

Despite the bad press around ‘homeworkers’, it would be a shame for employers if there was a growth in anti-home-working sentiments, because the remote position perk is a great talent attraction, bargaining and motivation tool. But working from home is more than a perk, it is an enabler too. It can also enable fledgling firms to grow and become future engines of the economy, and enable firms to tentatively expand into new territories while minimizing risk and  cost. ‘Home working’ is also proving that it is a catalyst as a Stanford University study (albeit isolated), has shown that homeworkers are more productive than their office-based counterparts.

What all this points to for me is that it is time for working from home to grow up. Done the right way, remote positions work. Simple. Millions of self-employed workers and contractors all over the world deliver and build great things for blue chip enterprises and small businesses throughout– all while working from home.

So, what can be learned from the millions of self-employed ‘homeworkers’ who perform excellently every day ? It’s simple: it’s a pay for performance contract. In the main part, most self-employed homeworkers know that if they don’t deliver on time and to specification, they will not be paid. The self-employed ‘homeworker’ can watch The Wire, drink as much hooch as he or she would like, but the person will fail quickly, not be paid, lose clients and be out of business.

Rather, the successful self-employed ‘homeworker’ is engaged on pay for performance and I think that if home-working is to be sustained within the traditional workplace employee model, it needs to grow and adopt a more unique, hybrid performance/base pay model more akin to freelance ‘homeworkers.’ There needs to be far more sophistication in the ‘home working’ performance contract. I would go as far to say that employers need to be working to develop and fine tune very specific performance related employment contracts, which reduce the emphasis on activity and increase the emphasis on measurable outcomes.

In this scenario, so what if the employee chooses to watch season 1 of Glee during working hours, it just means they have to work the entire weekend to ensure they get the work done and get paid. There will be a consequence to their misuse of time and they will soon be trained to work effectively and efficiently, just like the millions of successful home-working freelancers have been.

So, as I said, I think it is time for home-working to grow up and, in practice, I think that as employees move to a home-working model there should be some contractual alteration (done with the employees consent naturally), that links a significant part of their pay to outcomes and not activity. This means that employees will be appropriately incentivized to work at home in an efficient and productive way as millions of self-employed freelancers do every day.

By Kazim Ladimeji