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Are working from home days the new normal for senior executives?

by BIE on 17 May 2019

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The working from home discussion has long been a heavily debated one. There are those who think people will get nothing done, and it doesn't work for every business. But there are many who believe employees will be happier and more productive if they have the option to work from home. And the latest statistics show that organisations have become more open to it. Ultimately, there needs to be a balance between the needs of the business versus the needs of the individual.

But what does the debate look like at the senior executive level? Is there an appetite and an expectation amongst senior-level talent to work from home? How receptive are organisations to it? And what are the benefits - and potential downsides - at both an individual and organisational level?

Drawing on the perspectives of BIE consultants Catherine Osaigbovo, Emma-Claire Kavanagh and Gordon Whyte from their experience of working with both candidates and clients, we seek to answer these questions.

Most senior executives expect to be able to work from home

Most senior-level candidates expect flexible working options, including the ability to work from home one day a week. There is an assumption that if they are able to work from home in their current role, then they will be able to do the same at their next company.

“Most individuals expect there to be some level of flexibility to work remotely. Offering it not as a benefit, but as a way of working, is standard in the market.” Gordon Whyte

“There’s a general feeling it’s expected. I usually assume that a client offers work from home options. We’re dealing with senior roles where working from home is more acceptable. Though it’s not necessarily something that is put into a contract.” Catherine Osaigbovo

Organisations are generally open to offering work from home days

For the most part, our experience is that organisations are largely receptive to people working from home. Particularly in global businesses, it doesn't matter where a person is working as long as they have what they need to deliver. Some global companies even enforce working from home as a way of driving down costs.

“For international roles, quite often hiring managers say it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re working. If you’re at HQ but the team you manage are based in Europe, that itself may determine whether it’s even an issue or not.” Catherine Osaigbovo

“There are plenty of organisations that enforce it. Most banks in the City will offer you a desk in the office just 3-4 days a week, unless there are meetings. Most of these businesses are global, where interactions aren’t all face-to-face anyway.” Gordon Whyte

But it's not just global businesses that are open to staff working from home. There is a recognition that it has become an important element of job satisfaction, with people valuing the better work-life balance, freedom and flexibility that it brings.

Those that don’t offer flexible working options risk losing out on top talent

Amongst millennials in particular, there tends to be a strong desire for flexible working options, including the ability to work from home. Younger generations are bringing with them very different expectations to the generations before them and the organisations that aren't prepared to meet these shifting expectations risk missing out on potentially good candidates.

“Quite often, working from home will be as important to millennials as people above the age of 45 asking whether there is a pension. I’ve had cases where if a client says no, then a candidate won’t pursue the role any further.” Catherine Osaigbovo

There is also a sense that at the senior level, people should be trusted to work from home one day a week if it suits their lifestyle and would benefit their ability to deliver. So why wouldn't an organisation offer it as standard?

“If candidates aren’t given the option to work from home, they perceive it as a lack of trust. But when you’re talking about senior-level staff, these are people who are going to be reasonably self-motivated. And organisations are more interested in seeing the results and the output rather than managing people closely.” Gordon Whyte

The business case for home working

There is a valid argument that giving senior staff one day a week to work from home gives them a focused time to get things done. With no time lost to the commute, to meetings, or other distractions, senior executives are arguably more productive, more efficient, and better able to deliver results.

“I believe that the pace we all work at is so frenetic and immediate that many people would never deliver if they didn’t have one day a week working from home. They would never action the things they need to. That work from home day with no meetings or distractions gives people time and space to get on top of things.” Emma-Claire Kavanagh

“The majority of people I talk to will be spending the time they have in the office for meetings, building relationships, and getting things done through face-to-face communication, and then using the time from home to be super-efficient and plough through volumes of work.” Gordon Whyte

What about the importance of face-to-face interaction?

There are concerns that while working from home can boost productivity (as this 2-year Stanford study proved), it can come at the expense of things like team cohesion and innovation, both of which rely to a large extent on face-to-face interaction.

It was for this reason that back in 2013, Yahoo banned working from home, to protect communication and collaboration amongst employees. They weren’t alone in this way of thinking, as the likes of Bank of America and IBM followed suit.

Of course, working physically alongside others can foster a more innovative and collaborative environment, but if we're talking about working from home just one day a week, does it really have much of an impact?

Ultimately, people don't want to work in isolation all the time. Working from home one day a week offers a good balance of time both in and out the office.

“Although the younger generation like to work from home some of the time to give them that work-life balance and freedom they crave, they also need the atmosphere, the buzz, and the creative vibe that comes from being around other people.” Emma-Claire Kavanagh

Working from home doesn't work for everyone

There are some instances where it doesn't benefit the business to allow people to work from home. For example, in more formal environments there is a greater value placed on more time in the office. This extends to the interim world too.

“Sometimes clients will say working from home is fine, but you need to be in the office 5 days a week for the first 6-12 months so the business gets to know you. That’s usually in slightly more formal environments, like City-based clients, where they want you to get the trust and the buy-in from the team first.” Catherine Osaigbovo

“When putting senior interims into an organisation, clients like people around the interims to witness how the work is being delivered. If they are too remote in their delivery, then the client isn’t always getting that knowledge transfer.” Emma-Claire Kavanagh

And of course, individual differences apply too. Not everyone can work as well from home as they can in the office.

The need for balance

The world of work is changing, and are so are the expectations of talent, to whom flexible working options are becoming increasingly important. Organisations need to be open to embracing these changing expectations if they want to attract and retain top talent. However, there has to be a balance of time spent in the office building relationships and collaborating with others, versus time away from the workplace.

As long as senior executives get enough face-to-face time to meet their relationship management needs, then is there really any harm in a day away from the office each week?

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