The number of UK homeworkers has increased by 45% over the past 15 years, and those that are self-employed by 30%. This covers over 3m people in the UK and accounts for 15% of the adult working population.
Surveys consistently find that homeworkers are able to work more flexibly, and have higher levels engagement and productivity. The flexibility that this type of working provides is supported by the fact that 80% report a better work life balance; they are more engaged with 82% of employees stating they would be more loyal to their employer if they had flexible working arrangements; and they are more productive with 91% saying they get more work done when working remotely. In a recent survey of our 1,800 home-based travel counsellors, 94% said they agreed with the statement “I love my job”. And 92% would not return to their previous job, which is a powerful statement given that the vast majority have left a salary to work on a self-employed basis.
This growing trend isn’t just isolated to the UK, with American Society of Travel Agents stating that “the fastest growing segment of the US travel industry is homeworking agents who are professional and making use of the latest technology”.
When discussing the benefits of home-working we can be tempted to focus both on the upside to the individual and the business itself. Individuals enjoy limited commute time, flexibility over hours and ability to work out of hours when it suits the customer. The business sees reduced overheads, increased retention and recruitment due to the attractiveness of the proposition and access to potential talent who may not otherwise consider the job, for example parents with young children.
These benefits are all true. As are the pitfalls. There is the potential to feel lonely, isolated, missing human contact, easily distracted and therefore less productive and motivated. So, it would be remiss of us not to consider the downsides and that this type of working is not easy and it’s not always for everyone. As business owners and leaders, it’s our job is to enable people to make an informed decision whether it is right for them, and to ensure they don’t experience the potential pitfalls above. We can do this by providing the right support, technology and a culture that is conducive to a more empowered, digitally and personally connected and trusted way of working.
Whether it is for you or not, the home-working model is considered ‘future-proof’. 54% of millennials want to work on a flexible or alternative work schedule and 85% of millennials want to tele commute 100% of their time. As a business we not only empower our homeworkers to run their businesses from home, but we have evolved a more flexible approach for our office based support team, simply asking they work in a way that suits the business and them as individuals. This way of working has resulted in enhanced productivity and engagement across the 300-strong team, with increased service level standards for our internal customers and higher employee engagement levels that sit significantly above the national average. Not only that it has enabled us to tap into a wider talent pool, playing a significant part in our talent acquisition strategy.
This type of working is what the talent of the future are looking for. Digital connectivity and social media networks now mean there are no limits to scale a business for those with the ambition to do so and the support network in place to help them along the way.
But to have a business and to grow it, you need to be brilliant and better than your competitors at finding customers and keeping them. So, ultimately the real winners in the trend to home-working should be the customer. For as the old adage says, ‘happy employees make happy customers’, supported by customer focused brands globally including the likes of Starbucks with CEO Howard Schultz saying; “We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with the consumers”.
It is debatable to suggest that unhappy employees go out of their way to do a bad job for customers. However, a recent survey from BI Worldwide research found that not surprisingly unhappy people are most likely to want to leave their job and business, and directly or indirectly that loss of talent can only damage the longevity of relationships with customers. And it’s these relationships with customers that are the lifeblood of a business.
Travel Counsellors achieve world-leading levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty for supporting the travel booking process because “all things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust”. (The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann). We can provide workers with the environment, technology and support they need to build inherent relationships with their customers, including the flexible working patterns to suits themselves and their customers. In return the business, it’s people and customers alike enjoy the positive results, outcomes and rewards that this future proof way of working can bring.