homeworking

Gig workers on the rise

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Teamwalking1You’ve no doubt seen them, those nomads wandering around with laptops or tablets, coffee shop warriors hogging that comfortable settee you had your eye on.

The new word for these freelancers is gig worker. Now when I get a gig I’m expected to take my guitar but that’s another story.

I wrote about the gig economy a year ago when the term had replaced portfolio working and was no longer just about consultants and trainers but about a whole range of people seeking flexibility and control over their work.

It seems that the trend is continuing with parents wanting to work around school hours at the same time as companies wanting more flexibility in managing their head count.

According to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-employed there are 1.6 million freelancers in the UK.

And according to a survey of knowledge workers by a software company just over half of them now work in virtual teams and most of those believe it is more effective than working face-to-face. In addition half of them would consider freelance work if it were offered to them.

The office is clearly becoming increasingly less important, and maybe less attractive due to the travel and daily hassles it can entail. Working from home is becomes more popular, perhaps in an effort to improve work-life balance, but is not for everyone. Whether it’s more productive is a different matter.

Matt Roberts, CEO at Touch Networks,  says “People want greater autonomy and a better work-life balance, while companies want consultation from people with diverse skill sets and experience“.

He says 40% of Americans will be self-employed by 2020 and he thinks the UK is heading the same way. Here there is a North-South divide with most freelancers based in the South East (22%), Greater London (21%), and South-West (12%),  areas, whereas there are only 1% of them in Northern Ireland.

What are they all doing? 

According to the Labour Force Survey 2015 the proportion of freelancers in different occupations is:

  • 68% of artistic, literary and media workers
  • 40% of those who work in sport and fitness
  • 35% of managers and proprietors
  • 32% of those who work in design occupations
  • 21% of therapists
  • 17% of health-care workers
  • 15% of business research & admin workers
  • 13% of IT workers
  • 12% of business & finance workers
  • 11% of engineers
  • 9% of functional management & directors
  • 9% of sales & marketing workers
  • 8% of teachers & those working in education
  • 8% of those working in public services

A year ago I wrote about people on zero-hour contracts and the gap between power workers and those on basic pay. This issue has not gone away with HMRC currently taking an interest in several companies which pay less than the minimum wage.

 

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Working from home becoming more popular

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puzzle_piece_house_outline_1600_wht_4232Fed up of that stressful commute to work or having a bad day at the office?

Avoid all that by working from home. It’s the new status symbol – according to the Office of National Statistics.

1 in 7 of us now work from home ie 4.2 million people of which 1.5 million actually work there with the others using home as a base while working in different places.

Three-quarters of home-based workers are classed as higher skilled compared to one half of office-based workers.

So working from one seems to be restricted to high-flyers; 1/7 are managers or senior officials, 1/3 are professionals, and 1/4 are from high-skilled trades.

Median earnings for home-workers are £13.23 an hour compared to £10.50 for other workers. A third work for other people or companies with two-thirds are self-employed and the older the worker the more likely are they to work from home.

The age difference might be due to seniority or the fact that older workers made redundant find it more difficult to get jobs and often end up working for themselves.

There are regional differences with home-based working more popular in the south-west and far less common in the north.

Better technology has made working from home more cost-effective although many bosses still don’t trust staff who work from home even though there is evidence that they put in more hours and can be more productive.

Deloitte has introduced an “agile working programme” and is inviting its 12,000 UK employees to apply to work from home or in other flexible ways. They think it will attract and retain female staff but also improve working lives generally.

Not everyone agrees. Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo! staff from working from home when she became Chief Executive.

She said “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with being physically together“.

Easy for her to say and not doing women any favours when she built a crèche for her baby next to her office.

Is working from home more productive?

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carrying_house_pc_1600_wht_4461Marissa Mayer made the news when she banned employees at Yahoo from working from home.

Was she right to do that? Recent call-centre research by Nicholas Bloom at Stanford University found that allowing staff to work from home over a 9-month period led to happier, more productive staff, with fewer leavers.

The company originally thought that productivity would drop but that would be offset by saving money on office space and furniture. In the event the home-based staff completed 13.5% more calls than the office-based staff.

The researchers thought that 1/3 of the productivity increase was due to a quieter environment with the remainder du to the home-workers working longer hours.

The home workers started earlier and had shorter breaks and because they weren’t commuting worked until the end of the day.

Sick days also plummeted (so more like self-employed workers in that respect).

It may be that because call-centre work is more robotic and easily measured that such big benefits were found. It might be different for creative or knowledge workers. And if there is low morale people might start slacking.

So was Mayer right to ban home-working? We don’t really know what the situation was at Yahoo but it generated negative publicity when she had a nursery built next to her office with an element of the Queen Bee syndrome.

Not everyone wants to work from home. It seems that younger people, whose social life often revolves around work, are less likely to want to work from home compared with older workers who are married with established families.

In the call-centre example the home-workers self-selected so might have been more motivated to start with. Some opted to go back into the office at the end of the 9 months and these turned out to be the poorer performers.

The biggest resistance appears to come from middle management who worry about losing control of people working remotely.

Perhaps the best solution is to let people work a couple of days a week from home, especially in bad weather or as in London when they held the Olympic Games. These could be mandatory days or on a rotation.

Main source: HBR January-February 2014

Men and Women are different at Work

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662Work affects men and women differently, no doubt about it.

  • Being happily married helps women resist work-place stress whilst men dissatisfied with their jobs are more likely to flirt.
  • If you’re a working mum stop worrying about it having negative effects on your kids but try not to work more than 30 hours a week.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home dad then you’re probably more satisfied with your life than dads who go out to work but, like many women, miss adult conversation.
  • If you are an independent women rejecting help may make people believe you are competent but cold, and vice versa. Not so for men.
  • In a mixed group women cooperate more than men but men are more cooperative than women when working in a single sex group.

 

But men and women do have one thing in common: taking work home – whether mentally or physically – can depress you and make you feel tired.

A study at UCLA, published in 2008 in Health Psychology, showed that happily married working women rebounded quicker from daily stress than women in less happy relationships.

Men showed lower stress levels as the day progressed – as measured by levels of cortisol in their saliva – whether happily married or not. So while marriage is often seen as good for men’s health it may come at a price for women in unhappy relationships.

But there is good news for working mums. Research at the University of Bath, published this year, shows that working mothers are significantly less likely to suffer from depression whether part-time or full-time and regardless of salary level: single mums 15% less likely and mums in a partnership 6% less likely.

The researchers said there seems to be little evidence to link stress at work to depression. Women going back to work showed a 26% drop in mental health problems compared to an increase of 25% for women giving up work. And the same results have been found in a 10-year study in America where working mums also report fewer symptoms of depression than mums who don’t work. Working part-time was the healthiest option of all.

We have known for decades that unemployment was bad for men and now the same applies to women. Work gives you a sense of identity and boosts your self-esteem which impacts on your well-being.

And there’s no evidence that babies suffer when their mums work. Past research found that returning to work early resulted in children who are slower learners and UNICEF recommended in 2008 that women stay at home for the first 12 months rather than put their children at risk.

But the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care followed 1,000 children over 7 years tracking their families and their development. The research published by the Society for Research in Child Development in 2010 showed that overall the net impact was neutral: the advantages of more income and better child care offset any downsides of the mums returning to work. Again part-time working of up to 30 hours a week offered better outcomes than full-time working.

But women don’t have it all their own way at work. When it comes to “benevolent sexism” a study reported in the European Journal of Social Psychology (2012) showed that women couldn’t win. If they accept someone’s offer of help, for example opening a door for them or helping with a computer problem, they are seen as warmer but less competent; if they reject help they are seen as competent but cold.

And the same researchers found that accepting help meant that women were judged less suitable for managerial jobs while rejecting help led to their being judged less suitable for care jobs that relied on emotional skills.

For men the results were different. Rejecting offers of help led to them being judged as competent but not less warm. And it seems men are judged both competent and warmer when they offer help which is accepted.

It seem that independent women are seen as competent but cold mainly by people who believe in benevolent sexism and who adopt paternalistic attitudes.

A review by Balliet of 50 years of research discovered that men are actually more cooperative than women. And they are more likely to help strangers and be cooperative in large groups, whereas women are seen as more supportive and agreeable.

Perhaps surprisingly men are more cooperative in single sex groups than women but in mixed sex groups women are more cooperative.

It seems that when men and women are working together they resort to stereotypical behaviours because of the presence of the opposite sex. Perhaps men like to show women how dominant they are which reduces cooperation.

And sexist men earn more, at least in the USA. Research at Florida University (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) showed that men with traditional attitudes earned substantially more than their egalitarian colleagues whereas for women it was the other way round – although not such a big salary difference.

Over a 25-year period the traditionally-minded men earned an average of $8,459 more annually than egalitarian-minded men and $11,374 on average more than traditionally-minded women. The gap between egalitarian men and women was much less at $1,330.

The differences occurred regardless of education, type of job, family commitments or hours worked and the researchers aren’t really sure why. They surmise it might be unconscious bias.

Talking of egalitarian men, it seems that “stay at home” dads do better in terms of life, marital, and job satisfaction, than dads who work outside the home, according to research reported at the American Psychological Association‘s 2007 Annual Convention.

Men were staying at home for a number of reasons including deferring to their wives’ higher earnings potential and wanted to be more involved in bringing up their children. Being a full-time dad did have some stigmas attached and they also reported missing the adult work-place interactions (something often mentioned by women when they decide to return to work).

Finally one thing that applies to everybody: taking work home, whether mentally or physically, can make you feel depressed and tired.

Researchers at the University of Konstanz found that the greater people’s workload and work hours the harder it was to detach themselves from work. Workers experiencing high work demands need more recovery time but are less likely to get it because of their work habits and not having time to switch off.

Those workers with hobbies or who engaged in physical activity reported feeling less tired and more engaged. But the researchers also point out that thinking about work can be a mood booster as well if people are reflecting on their successes and accomplishments.

But let’s give the final words to women. There is evidence that while women can contribute a lot to teams they don’t always perform at their best in them. They are also more critical of organisations.

And there are people who believe that women are the winners at work anyway!

Flexible working not for everyone

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geek_icon_1600_wht_9297Flexible working seems to be on the increase, desired by many workers, and even welcomed by many employers.

However it seems that many Generation Y (those born between 1980s and early 1990s) employees think people who work flexibly are not as committed to their jobs as those who work from the office every day.

At least according to a survey by a company of employment solicitors.

They found that while Generation Y employees were quick to complain about discrimination they were also more likely to display hostile attitudes towards equality policies.

The report said it reinforced the reputation of these younger workers as being “awkward” and “difficult to manage“.

It does seem a paradox that these Generation Y employees, who love their technology (ideal for flexible working) and work-life balance are so disapproving.

Working flexibly with a coffee

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coffee_table_talk_PA_500_wht_6082Brits have now gained the right to have flexible working after 26 weeks of employment but a survey by O2 found that half of us would rather work from a cafe.

They found the environment more conducive to working productively than in an office.

2 in 5 of us spend more than 4 hours a week working from a coffee shop adding up to millions of hours each week and 1 in 4 of us would choose to work there if they had the option.

The smaller the company the more likely it is that they will work in this way, about a fifth compared to 1 in 7 from larger companies.

Almost 1 in 3 self-employed people use coffee shops as their base while others use their homes, trains or the local pub.

It seems more people are working away from the office but working from home does have its downsides.

Working from home

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carrying_house_pc_1600_wht_4461Given the choice would you rather work from home or commute to work?

In snow bound conditions this might be a no-brainer but generally speaking most people seem to prefer to go out to work rather than work from home.

Even though in Britain this increasingly means longer commuting times, getting stuck on concrete car parks known as motorways, or crushed like sardines in overcrowded commuter trains or metro/tube trains in uncomfortable not to say sometimes unhygienic conditions.

Experts suggest we lose many millions of pounds-worth of business each day due to bad weather in the winter and the country’s lack of preparedness for it.

So what happened to the technology revolution? Surely with lap-tops, wi-fi, smart phones, VOIP (like Skype)and video conferencing, file sharing and cloud technology, more of us should be able to work from home – or from the local coffee franchise. Or does that just apply to the so-called “nomads“: consultants of various kinds forever destined to travel the highways and by-ways, to whom e-traffic is just another hazard to navigate?

There are approximately 25 million people working but well under a million of those work from home. Leaving aside those working in production, manufacturing or retail, there are plenty of service and professional jobs you might think would be suitable for home-working,

One problem might be the slow inter-connectivity over the internet. The UK might have the most users of the internet per capita in Europe but we also have the slowest broadband speeds although ironically BT is one of the few employers which has experimented with home-working.

But it seems most employers like to see bums on seats and managers worry when they can’t supervise (from the latin to “over see“) and, some would say, micro-manage people.

Some research suggests that people are more productive at home – provided they can separate their work zone from their private zone and manage those boundaries to maintain work-life balance and confidentiality – because they don’t waste time commuting. In fact they might actually work harder so as not to be seen to abuse the system.

However we are social animals and it seems that we really need to have interaction with our colleagues – especially if we work in real teams, to enjoy those water-cooler moments, and, at this time of year particularly, the social activities which may be the high point of our work lives and the source of gossip to keep us going for months to come.