Initially, Tom Gorman, founder of print management firm TDG, banned homeworking. “If I had my way, everyone would be in the office at nine o’clock and they’d leave at five. But that isn’t realistic.”
He didn’t believe it would be effective. “Personally, I can’t do it. I get distracted. I need to be in an office environment to work.” With 70 per cent of his 30 employees being female, it dawned on him that his luddite views were far from popular. “Half the women have kids. They wanted flexibility. Email is the most important method of communication in our work, so I knew it was possible to work from anywhere.”
Cautiously, he introduced homeworking. To his delight, he found productivity was unchanged, and loyalty to his firm increased. “Just because homeworking isn’t for me doesn’t mean that other people can’t cope with it,” he says. “The women we employ are mothers who have no trouble working in the midst of chaos. They just get on with it.”
At Department 83 the barrier was technology. Founder Lucy Handley says: “I was terrified of a security breach. We manage services for BT and they need to be sure we are careful with their data. When I started Department 83, homeworking worried me. What if someone lost a laptop with data on it” What if we didn’t back up properly and everything went missing” And if we did back up using a hosted service, how could we be sure the data was secure ”
Her early attempts at getting the technology right weren’t great. “Our first system was neither convenient nor very secure. For files bigger than 5MB, workers would have to pop into the office to pick up print-outs.”
She moved the entire firm to a hosted service provided by Extrasys and is now evangelical about the system. “Workers download an application to their desktop or laptop and can log in from there. Extrasys uses a keyfob for added security. You input a number and it provides you with a new, unique number. This prevents anyone from stealing your password. Best of all, the system is backed up four times a day.”Sometimes the appeal of homeworking is so great even the company boss signs up.
Fascia Graphics is a rarity – a successful British manufacturing firm. Fascia makes keypads and has 50 employees in its Chippenham factory. Founder Paul Bennett encourages his sales guys to hit the road as much as possible, and says he’s improved his own productivity by not coming into the factory quite so much. “Working from home a few days a week means I can check my emails, take my kids to school and focus on paperwork without being distracted by other work issues. My time is now more structured. When I go to the factory, I know what I want to achieve.”
David Blair, of chartered accountancy practice David Blair Associates, adopted homeworking because all of his practitioners are female. “It’s convenient yet effective. We doubled chargeable hours last year and probably will this year, too.”
For brave firms who make the leap to homeworking, the rewards are huge. At PR agency Chazbrooks Communications, the view is that homeworking can bring back a long-dead concept: the “job for life”. “Enlightened companies are making the possibility of long-term employment a reality by offering variable hours, special agreements, and diverse locations as a way of catering for different employee lifestyles,” says founder Chaz Brooks.
He says that flexi-working, job sharing, reduced hours, career breaks and homeworking mean that he never has to say goodbye to an employee just because they have children or move overseas. “The high level of energy, motivation, and commitment that our employees give us as a result of our flexible approach adds a huge amount of value to the service that we offer.” Proof that homeworking isn’t just for the geeks.
For more on successful businesses run from home:UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 1 to 5