Home is where the office is…

At least it is for me anyway. I’ve been based from home for over five years now and I can safely say it is the best office environment I’ve ever worked in. I still travel thousands of miles around the UK every month but spend far more time at my desk in Lincolnshire than I do in our London and Oxford offices combined.

My colleagues always know when I’m working from home too. I start earlier, finish later and am many orders of magnitude more productive. Plus my kids love seeing me between weekends – which they don’t when I am travelling. I’m usually gone before they wake and back after they go to bed.

The great thing is I am also better on the days when I am in the office. I cram as much interaction time with the team as possible and they really notice the difference I make.

I’m really lucky that Chiumento embraces and encourages home working. Since I took over as COO we’ve progressively moved to cloud technologies and VOIP based communications. It has now reached the point where every member of our team can access every system at home they can in the office.

All this is why the BBC coverage of Yahoo!’s stance on home working really rocked me back. An internet business stopping people working from home – surely not?

So today I stepped back and thought it through. And I think I can see the problem in a clear light thanks to the Chiumento Career Motivation model first published in our Riding the Career Carousel research (which, by the way, I think lines up brilliantly with David Rock’s brain-based SCARF engagement model).

The Chiumento model puts people in one of five key motivational groups Socialisers, Achievers, Materialists, Protectionists and True Believers. Each group is energised to perform at work in very different ways and so I decided to think through how home working might impact some of them.

Socialisers are motivated primarily by relationships at work and make up over 40% of the workforce. Things like teamwork and social interaction are critical to their well-being and performance. Take them out of the office and sit them on their own at home – particularly with tasks that require focus and detail rather than communication – and the potential pitfalls loom large. For example denied the social interaction of colleagues they might seek the inter-personal stimulus they crave elsewhere. It seems fairly logical that this might make them particularly vulnerable, for example, to distraction by friends and family. In any event their isolation will eventually sap their energy.

I know from my own home working experience that having a proper workspace (with a door) is crucial. My 7 year old knows that when Daddy’s office door is shut he’s working. If I was working off the kitchen table that would never happen. So my view is that having a proper working space at home is critical to success – but I guess many people don’t have that luxury.

Achievers are a much smaller group and are primarily motivated by the need to be “the best I can”. That inner driving force is likely to mean that as long as they are working on something interesting and stimulating they will function just as well at home as they do in the office. In fact without the interruptions of Socialisers looking for an inter-personal “fix” they may even get their heads down and be more productive. The problem with Achievers might be allowing them to take home a (to them) boring and repetitive task that doesn’t stimulate them. That may well mean they look around the house for something more interesting to do instead…

These are just early thoughts. As we tell delegates on our Career Compass programmes, the secret in all this is to know yourself. Working from home is just one variable in the whole career management spectrum and will suit some and not others. Which is where, I suggest, Yahoo have gone wrong. A blanket ban isn’t the right approach. What you need is a diagnostic approach that tells you who will thrive at working from home and who won’t.

In the weeks ahead we will be looking more at this issue and thinking about how our career motivation diagnostic and other tools can better predict home working success.

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive Designate