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Careers Flexible Working Future of work

Working From Home: Are Employers Biased About It?

The term Working From Home or WFH, has been used a lot in post-lockdown times. Maybe too much? What I mean is; when a phrase or title is used so often, we can forget it’s literal core meaning.

Because of that, Working From Home has been a talking point as of late. And it is always referred to as a form of flexible working, which it is. But how flexible is it really?

Honestly, there are variables which mean that this question has a number of different answers and there inlies the problem. There is no solid answer to that question and yet there seems to be bias about the flexibility and freedom Working From Home offers.

What is the bias against people who Work From Home?

This all started when I saw a post on LinkedIn. A woman was calling out her husband’s employer for questioning why he needed a shift change to perform parenting duties. When his wife Works From Home…

This alone shocked me. But what shocked me more was the number of people commenting who related to this story. Which led me to question if there was a bias from employers about employees who Work From Home. I set a poll asking this question on LinkedIn and Facebook and 80 people responded.

Only 2.5% said they believed there was no bias against people Working From Home and that businesses understood the limitations. 42.5% said they felt some businesses understand and others don’t. While 55% said that they felt employers have the bias that Working From Home offers far more freedom and flexibility than it really does.

To add to this I saw even more shocking stories in the comment section of what this stereotype has done to people, their living situation and their families, some of them are extreme.

But what surprised me the most is how brazen employers are when questioning the working arrangement of other people who live in their employee’s household.

I fail to see how anyone cannot appreciate how inappropriate and unprofessional that is. If an employee is asking for any kind of leave or change in shift, it is no business of the employer to question why a person outside of their employ cannot perform the task needed.

What flexibility does Working From Home actually offer?

As I said before, it depends on the individual employer how flexible their form of Working From Home is. And the range of that is as long as it is short.

However, if we take it for it’s core definition, this way of working only refers to one thing; the location of where someone does their work.

So in theory, Working From Home in terms of flexibility only really impacts one aspect of someone’s working day. And that is the need to commute into work. This is the only solid difference between an employee who works in an office and one who Works From Home. Every other aspect is completely subjective.

Yet some businesses seem to think that employees who Work From Home have all the free time in the world. I have seen first hand this is not the case.

I know of people who WFH, whose shift patterns including; start time, break times and shift end are just as strictly regimented and monitored as if they were in an office.

Then, I know of people who used to commute to the office and are now casually expected to use the time they used commuting as extra time to spend working.

WFH, Parenting Roles and Unconscious Bias

A point was made by one of the commenters on the poll, questioning whether (when it comes to parents) employers’ attitudes differ depending on which parent is the one Working From Home.

This comment got a fair few likes. Then when I looked further, I realised the majority of people who voted were women and everyone who shared a personal story on the subject was female.

This does beg the question of whether this is a bias on WFH or more unconscious (or perhaps even conscious) bias against women in the workplace who WFH?

This could be yet another insight into the ongoing existence of gender bias and inequality in the workplace. With a bias against mothers Working From Home adding yet another layer to this.

Do I think that this is in actual fact the case? I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. I believe there are employers who still have gender equality issues and I believe there are employers who have an unfair bias about people who Work From Home. Some of these will overlap and become mixed with one another, but both need addressing.

FTDAWWFH (Free To Do Anything While Working From Home)

Clearly in extremes, this is what some believe Working From Home actually means. There needs to be a serious crash course on what WFH actually is.

Lesson 1 for businesses is reminding them what the ‘W’ stands for. Just because the location of where it is being conducted happens to be home, that doesn’t give the employees the magical ability to be able to take care of all domestic responsibilities while they are at work.

That insinuates that the work they do is less important or easier because they happen to be doing it at home, which clearly isn’t the case. Lesson 2 should be on further flexibility.

It’s clear from our data that some businesses believe WFH is all the flexibility anyone needs. First and foremost, if someone has 8-10 hours worth of work to do in a day, where are they supposed to find time to:

  • Clean the house
  • Do the laundry
  • Pick kids up from school
  • Look after children at home
  • Drop kids off at football, dance, karate etc.
  • Cook meals
  • Look after a sick relative
  • Deal with an unforeseen emergency
  • Go to a doctors, dentist or vet appointment

This list could go on and on, for some people their daily lives consist of this and more. So between all that which they apparently have full availability for, where are they finding the time to complete the 8-10 hours of work that has been set for that day?

Are they expected to work into the early hours of the morning? Because that sounds flexible. So why should they or their wife, husband, partner, mother, father etc. be denied any kind of flexibility to help with any of these responsibilities?

The Solution

Honestly, I think if there are any businesses suffering from any of the aforementioned bias I think they need some serious HR consulting. Working From Home is purely about location, what flexibility comes with that is a totally separate conversation for individual employers to have with their employees.

Although, no employee whether they WFH or not should feel unable to ask for certain needs to be met. And this certainly should not be the case for people who happen to have a member of their household who Works From Home.

There is no other way to put it: that it is not an employer’s business. It is quite literally someone else’s and that business just happens to have their employee Working From Home. And their work is every bit as important, time-consuming and attention requiring as any employee who does not conduct their Work From Home.

Either way, there is definitely a misconception about Working From Home and how flexible it is. The same could be said for the 4-day week which is another hot topic right now. See what John Adams has to to say on the subject and how flexible it really is.

Categories
Careers Flexible Working Future of work

Remote Working – Stay Connected

“Out of sight, out of mind” wrote John Heywood, a favoured playwright to four Tudor monarchs, in his collection of proverbs. With the initially forced and now inexorable rise of alternative employment patterns, this epigram is as poignant today as it was centuries ago. For remote workers, several questions arise – how does a person stay connected, visible, remain part of a team and secure good work and promotion whilst not being on site?

The Challenge For Remote Workers

No commuting, less stress and concentrating in the relative quiet of home (in non-Covid times) mean that homeworkers are ready to attack their to-do lists with more gusto than otherwise. But there is a lingering sense that being physically present in the workplace indicates that an employee is more available, more obviously diligent or perhaps even just more personable. These issues increase with the amount of time spent out of the office, with full-time remote workers facing particular challenges.

It’s Good To Talk

Email has become the default manner of communication but it’s good to talk. When you pick up the phone and speak, you can modulate your tone of voice and nuances come across far better. There is also the chance to ask for clarification and further information on a real-time basis. With people’s in-boxes increasingly cluttered, the direct personal approach can be more effective. If concerned about interrupting someone, use instant messaging to check availability. Alternatively send a meeting invite for an Outlook calendar which can be accepted or used to propose a more suitable time. 

Responding Promptly

In an office, a line manager can walk up to a desk, ask if something can be done and get an instant, and reassuring, response. Where appropriate, it is helpful to recreate this interaction by responding promptly to an email or voicemail. Even if the deadline for the work is far into the future, reply immediately to say that you have received the message and that you will be actioning it.

Make Your Voice Heard

Meetings can be testing, as everyone is in the room except the remote worker. You need to prepare carefully to maximise your meeting participation. Do not irrelevantly say things just for the sake of it (trust me, this will not make you popular) but rather focus in advance on what your contribution will be. Body language, in particular, may not come across in Zoom and certainly not on a voice-only call. Instead of just nodding your head and hoping someone will notice this on a screen, you may need to speak up to make sure you get your point across.

Communicate Your Aspirations

Remote working has many advantages. But it does not feel that way when you are at home wondering why X or Y got a plum project when you missed out. Sometimes work just gets handed out to the person who is more obviously in a line of vision.

To mitigate against such disappointment, communicate aspirations and preemptively volunteer for what you want. Your supervisor is not a mind reader. Whatever work you do get, schedule progress check-ins to get feedback and ensure that you are on the right path. This also indicates to your boss how productive you are and reassures that there are no surprise problems lurking in the background.

Connect With A Mentor

If you want more long-term input into your career, being matched with a mentor can be a great move for mapping and achieving progress. It is always beneficial to have someone to discuss how you can get ahead and to advocate for you when you are not in the office yourself. You could also offer to buddy a newcomer and thus have a positive impact on the work environment in that way.

stay connected, photo of team with one remote worker

What Next For The Remote Worker

Offices are buzzing places with collaborative relationships often built around chit-chat and water-cooler conversations. Remote workers may miss out on that sense of camaraderie and the networking that comes with it. To combat this, it is smart proactively to instigate social interaction. You can schedule in a coffee Zoom or a lunch Skype since nowadays eating “al-desko” has become popular. Other options include ensuring that you participate in Away Days and attend firm-wide events such as the Xmas lunch. 

When it comes to remote employment, the only thing that should be remote is the work, not the worker. 

Susha Chandrasekhar

Read more about how Covid could change how and where we live.

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