Working from home can be a mixed bag

Working from home can often help maintaining a work life balance. But it isn't for everyone, Pierre Battah writes.

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recalled all the home based Yahoo workers back to the office, she may have unwittingly done more for the telecommuting debate than one would expect.

Ten to 12 per cent of Canadians work from home in either an employment situation or as a result of self-employment. And the trend has been increasing but at a very slow pace probably because of the mixed results from home based work arrangements.

If you are an employee working from home you are more likely to be male, live close to an urban centre, work more than 50 hours a week and have professional duties.

If you are self-employed and working from home you are more apt to be female and children may have been a contributing factor.

Working from home can often help maintaining a work life balance. But it isn't for everyone, Pierre Battah writes. (Supplied photo)

Work life balance is often cited as the reason for home based work with an expectation of greater facility in managing hours and demands, less commuting time and greater flexibility.

The data does bear out the correlation between working at home and satisfaction with work life balance in a 2008 Statscan study.

It appears to work for some but not for all, remembering that in some cases employers insist on home-based working arrangements for employees who would rather not.

A substantial number of home-based workers dislike the arrangement, stating blurred boundaries, isolation and a sense of being cut off from the hub of social and professional activity that a workplace can provide. The 24-hour home office can be an unwanted by-product.

Home based workers have been found to be more productive. In a recent Stanford study the increased number of hours worked by home based workers was a large part of why they were more productive than their office counterparts.

Many managers and supervisors struggle with work at home arrangements. The old school approach of managing the person and their process as opposed to managing objectives, milestones and results gets in the way of managing virtually.

Research is showing us that home based workers are a mixed bag. Some employees and employers are not cut out for it, they need the structure, social interaction and other benefits of a conventional workplace to be effective and satisfied.

Working from home is a popular option for some people. (Stanley Leary/Associated Press)

Researchers are also commenting on the evidence of a decline in true collaboration and innovation when teams work from home.

Researcher Dr. Keith Sawyer reminds us of the difference between distant collaboration and true team work. He advocates working from home one day a week to enable quiet reflection and contemplation which are also required for innovation and creativity.

He argues Yahoo got it right in calling in the creative folks to innovate. Many employers use flexible work arrangements including home-based work because they work and they help attract and retain top talent.

Finding the right formula to meet employers and employees needs is where both the challenge and the opportunity lie.