Working from home – not all it’s cracked up to be?

Okay, in all honesty, the above title is a bit clickbait-y. This article is not going to tell you how awful home working is. Nor how everyone should get back to the ‘commute and cubicle’ as soon as possible. And in a COVID-ridden world in which the economy (the ‘knowledge economy, at least) is using working from home as a lifeline, we’re not going to tell you to let go.

That said, working from home isn’t necessarily great for everyone, all the time. It’s not the best choice for every individual. Despite the clichés (flexibility, pyjama dress code, job/domestic multitasking, etc.) some people genuinely struggle with home-working and a manager who pretends otherwise is just sticking their head in the sand. So, here are 5 potential problems, drawbacks or pitfalls with home-working… and a few pointers for managers trying to keep everything (and everyone) on track.

  1. Changes to processes – Somebody may know their job like the back of their hand through long repetition (step 1, step 2, meeting, step 3, phone call, done… or whatever) but the same task done in isolation is instantly unfamiliar, and often only possible due to additional technology.

Some people rely on their usual routine and the slightest variation throws them off. Be aware that some employees need more support and reassurance to get through change.

  1. Knowledge management – Most organisations rely on knowledge: accessing what people and systems know and sharing it where it be most effective. If you’re usually an office-based team, it’s likely that more of that knowledge sharing than your realise is done casually (last-minute “join us in this meeting” and “while I’m here, let me just tell you this” scenarios).

Take some time to review how knowledge is passed around the organisation. What substitutes for ‘casual invitation’ can you implement? How can you ensure your people are thinking “Who needs to know this?” about everything.

  1. Social contact – No, work is not a social club for people to hang out with their friend, but the social aspect in your organisation almost certainly underpins your workplace culture, team performance, employee engagement…, and so on.

Talk with your team(s) about how they might use message groups, chat apps, video meetings software and other comms tools to maintain the casual employee interactions as well as the formal.

  1. Discipline and disengagement – Arguably, poor performance or a ‘just don’t care’ attitude is easier to spot in a face-to-face workplace. With less direct contact with employees, managers may find it more difficult to detect and tackle genuine poor performance (as opposed to someone just grappling with a total change in their working environment).

As well as the usual regular team meetings, make time to talk to employees individually, understand their circumstances and how they’re feeling about work. Performance management at a distance is exactly the same in principle as in an office, but with far fewer opportunities to observe and discuss. Build those opportunities into your day.

  1. Working hours and boundaries – Generally speaking, the less formal the setup, the less employees observe their strict hours. A survey of HR professionals and home workers by LinkedIn and the UK’s Mental Health Foundation noted that 79% of respondents saw a link between remote working and increased e-presenteeism.

Being available outside of working hours for emergencies may be a sign of a ‘go-the-extra-mile’ employee. But regular picking up emails and messages at all hours or being unable to switch off the phone or laptop because, well… just in case, is just going to boost rates of stress and burnout and can a sign of an unassertive team member. As a manager, you need to role model respect for contracted hours. Yes, exceptions can and should be made. But they should be exceptions.

There’s no doubt that working from home can be an incredibly productive strategy. And over the last few months, it’s been a lifesaver for countless businesses.

But it won’t work for everyone. And the worst thing you can do is to assume the same old management style and organisational practices will fit the ‘new normal’.

To manage a distributed and remote team does not necessarily need the adoption of a brand new, wildly unfamiliar management approach. But it does need to be honestly considered in the light of how your employees are responding to the new way of working: in terms of getting the job done, what should you stop doing, what should you start, and what should you carry on (though almost certainly in a different form to before)?


If you’re interested in considering further the issues around managing a home-working team or workforce, check out our working from home series of webinars. Or give us a call on 01582 463464; we’re here to help.

Categories: Customer service

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