ISE’s Tristram Hooley looks at the growth of homeworking and asks what the issues are for entry-level staff.
After 17 months I’ve had enough of home working. I’m ready to get on a train, buy a coffee, meet some people and go somewhere (anywhere).
But the change in my working pattern during the pandemic has made me reflect on the way I used to work. Yes, I probably did spend too much time going back and forwards to London. And yes, with hindsight, I organised a lot of face-to-face meetings when a videoconference would have done.
For mid-to-late career professionals like me the shift to homeworking has been a mixed blessing. I miss the contact while recognising that there have been efficiency gains. But, for entry-level staff home working has been a much more challenging undertaking.
The evidence on homeworking
Of course, homeworking is nothing new. The UK Data Service shows that before Covid-19 the number of home workers had been rising to the point that around 5% of UK workers were mainly working from home by the start of 2020.
The Office for National Statistics say that since the pandemic the number of people mainly working from home has gone up, but only to 8%. But there are another 18% who have recently started working from home. This group is important to watch as at least some of them may end up as more permanent homeworkers.
Home working has been increasing for several years and Covid-19 has given it a big boost. While there are some good things about working from home, research tells us that homeworkers are:
- less likely to be promoted;
- less likely to receive a bonus;
- less likely to access training; and
- more likely to undertake unpaid overtime.
So, home working is a mixed blessing for workers. There are also arguments on both sides for organisations. On one hand home working can save office costs and allow organisations to access a wider pool of potential employees. On the other, there are some dangers caused by the loss of informal interaction, social connection and organisational culture.
Issues for entry-level workers
Many of the issues described above are worse for entry-level workers. New staff need to be inducted and onboarded into the organisational culture and helped to build a professional support network. They must learn how to do their jobs and figure out the informal rules of the workplace.
If young workers are working from home, they are likely to find these things more difficult. Knowledge, skills and networks are accumulated gradually once you join the workforce. If you never, or rarely, get the opportunity to meet with your co-workers, it will take longer to build up your professional capital.
In other words, home working is bad for entry-level workers. It is bad, even if entry-level workers come to the office, but more experienced workers stay at home. If older workers disappear from the office the opportunity for the inter-generational transfer of professional capital is hampered.
7 tips to make homeworking work for entry-level staff
There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about the impact that home working might be having on entry-level staff. I’m going to finish with a number of practical suggestions about what you can do about it.
- Think carefully before you make a permanent shift to homeworking. Remember that there are downsides as well as upsides.
- Build a brilliant virtual induction and onboarding programme. Home working makes induction more important than ever. It should really encourage interaction and network building within the new cohort and across the organisation. See Khairunnisa Mohamedali 5 tips for virtual inductions and Capfinity’s tips for avoiding virtual fatigue.
- Make the most of opportunities for blended working. Even if you are a remote working organisation make sure that you have regular meet ups. Some companies are running outdoor meetings and socials, when they aren’t ready to return to the office.
- Focus on community and belonging. So much social connection used to happen organically. Now you need to actively design for it to happen. See Alice Hooper-Scott’s advice on supporting belonging and Khairunnisa Mohamedali on building virtual communities.
- Train your line managers. Line managing early career staff just got a lot harder. Make sure your line managers are ready for it and that they have an opportunity to reflect on how it is going.
- Supercharge your development programmes. Training is more important than ever, because home working makes it more difficult to learn on the job. See Bob Athwal on acing student development after Covid and listen to our podcast on Covid and early talent development.
- Listen to your early career staff. We are entering a new world. No one has a map. Because of this it is really important to listen carefully to the experience of your new staff. They will know what is working and what is not.