There is a growing trend, in South Africa as around the world, for remote working, or working from home.
SauceCode MD Graham Fry spoke to Kathy Gibson about the pros and cons of remote working – and how employers can make sure it works for them.
There are a number of benefits to remote working: employees can miss rush hour traffic, often adding hours to their day; they can be present for home or family commitments; they can work in a comfortable environment; they can work the hours that suit them and not necessarily eight to five.
There are benefits for employers too: they can reduce the cost of premises and centralised infrastructure; they could have happier and more contented workers; and they could even get more useful hours out of their employees.
Many employers, however, are understandably nervous about allowing their staff to work remotely: they worry that employees will “slack off” if they aren’t in the work environment; that they will find other things to do instead of working; or even if they’re on their computers, they’ll spend the time on unproductive sites.
So how can companies and employees get the benefits while avoiding the potential pitfalls?
The simple answer is to monitor what employees are doing so you can be sure they are being productive and efficient even if they are working at home, says Fry.
“An agent-based tool like Tistro lets you manage people just as efficiently as if they were are work.”
He cites the example of his own software development organisation.
“We wanted people to work from home, and using Tistro allowed us to see how well they were functioning.
“We tested the premise by letting people work remotely for a few days,” Fry explains. “We were surprised to see that, when they worked from home, productivity spiked.
“When they came back to the office, we saw productivity dip to where it had been before. So we sent them to work at home again, and again we saw a spike.”
The company tested employee productivity and efficiency levels at home and at the office over a period of a few months and the pattern held: every single time, they were more productive at home.
“And it wasn’t just one or two individuals, it was the whole team,” Fry says. “Having this information meant that we could make a company decision based on scientific facts. So we have now actually closed our offices and everybody works remotely.”
Of course, it’s possible the employees are more efficient simply because they know they are being monitored. “But the very quickly forget they are being monitored,” Fry says.
“When we’ve done proof of concept projects with other companies, we’ve put the monitoring in without people’s knowledge so we can measure the trend or average.
“When we tell people they are being monitored you generally see a spike for a short period, but it quickly goes back to the average.”
Fry is quick to stress that monitoring shouldn’t be used as a “Big Brother” system used to police behaviour. “The idea is to encourage people to be productive and efficient, but also help them to take care of themselves.”
For instance, come of the SauceCode developers tend to be over-achievers, and sometimes monitoring their work means managers can remind them to take a break, or otherwise look after themselves.
“You want to encourage good behavior and incentivise people to grow,” Fry says.
While it’s an ideal solution for many employees, remote working isn’t for everyone, he adds.
“But there are a lot of people in most organisations who could be good candidates for remote working – people like developers, accountants, telesales, data capturers, call centre agents and the likes.”
Wherever there are banks of people doing similar work, it’s relatively straightforward to see the productivity levels and identify trends. “You could integrate a tool like Tistro into your card systems or into your telephony systems to increase the types of reporting you can do,” Fry points out.
If a company is considering remote working, there are a few things it needs to do before it can get started.
“You need to look at a lot of things across the business,” Fry says. “And there are some basic requirements that need to be in place to determine what will and won’t work.
“For instance, do the people you want to have working remotely have connectivity at home? Do your IT systems allow for remote working?”
Once the logistics are sorted out, managers need to determine how much work employees are doing now, at work.
“You can get a pretty accurate picture of what people, departments and the company are doing using a monitoring tool like Tistro,” Fry says.
“Once you have a good understanding of what people are doing, at whatever level of granularity you want – people, department or the whole organisations – you can then continue monitoring and establish what the trend is.
“Thereafter you could let a few people work at home, measure the impact, then bring them back to the office for a bit and send them home again for some time.”
This will let the company build a picture of whether working at home is above the productivity baseline, and whether it’s sustainable.
Fry cautions, however, that information is always going to subjective and managers should be sensitive to the fact that people aren’t machines.
“And everyone isn’t cut from the same cloth.”
Part of the attraction of remote working is the flexibility it allows – but that has to be managed within the business KPIs.
“If you are monitoring people, you can see what is happening and HR can put in guidelines to help people maintain their productivity.
“But you need to work with people, and work with the company goals,” Fry stresses.
“Just because employees are working at home, there shouldn’t be any change in working conditions. They still have leave and weekends off, exactly as if they were working in the office.”
Saucecode is a software development and innovation company that employs cutting-edge technologies including robotics to create business applications and products that deploy into a variety of industries.
Software applications are based on Saucecode’s intellectual property (IP) and available under license for general market consumption.
The company addresses a number of areas of development: Internet of Things (IoT); Web development; web and native app development; e-commerce; distributed software and API development; user experience (UX); artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Tistro is a general business software application that delivers the ability to measure, monitor and manage time and productivity, helping business to truly understand the productivity and behavior within their user base in order to monitor, manage, enhance and even automate time and productivity outputs.
The application will improve user performance, aid in user appraisals and assist in optimising user work methods and training. It will also allow an organisation to manage employee’s wellbeing through identifying work life imbalances.
Tistro allows line management and human resources departments to review users work performance and work loading on an ongoing basis to establish any behavior anomalies that could affect productivity. The application’s main benefit to any business is that it saves thousands of man hours by optimizing the performance management process and having the full control of project time and budget utilization.