Work-Life Balance Requires More Than Just WFH

The American psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth was the first academic to write about an explicit connection between time, motion, and fatigue. She wrote many books and papers in this field and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial and organisational psychology. Her work created the idea of a ‘work-life balance’ and it’s almost half a century since she died.

As most people know, managing a work-life balance can be complex. The equilibrium between your personal life and your employment affects both these areas and over the past few decades an entire industry has been created, focusing on happiness at work and how to achieve the right levels of rest and leisure time balanced with efforts at work.

Work-life balance is a subject that many employers and employees have aspired to for many years. Employers believe that their employees will be more productive and engaged if this balance is improved and employees generally agree – but with so much focus on this area and such a long history of analysis, why is it still so difficult to achieve? Why aren’t those Chief Happiness Officers more effective?

The first issue is the number of variables. The government creates laws and regulations that define how people work. Employers create the job opportunities, and employees undertake those jobs. Each actor has their own set of expectations about what will make them more productive and more engaged. The reality of many modern working arrangements may also have evolved much faster than legislation can catch up – so there is often a disconnect.

Working from home (WFH) is a good example. Many employees were asked to work from home during the Covid pandemic and many are planning to continue, either full-time at home or using a hybrid model where they sometimes visit the office and sometimes stay at home. But WFH needs some preparation, so why is a desk and chair considered to be tax deductible and yet Internet access is not?

In the past year, the British tax agency HMRC has been flooded with people asking for tax deductions for all the purchases they were forced to make to ensure that their home working environment is safe, secure, and allows them to work productively.

The government doesn’t have a simple answer to these questions because nobody really expected such a dramatic shift to home working, but now we can see that many people intend to remain working from home, some clear guidance and regulations would be welcome. Government agencies, employers, and employees all need to work together to define how the future of work is going to look.

At SensĂ©e, we believe that one of the fundamental changes is around personal control or ‘agency’ as the psychologists would define it. All our teams work at home, but they are not expected to work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday. We empower them to self-schedule their work hours, providing greater control and flexibility to blend their personal life around work. This could be as simple as taking a couple of hours off in the afternoon to pick up the kids from school and then logging in later for a shift once everyone at home has been fed.

It sounds simple, but companies cannot just offer this flexibility overnight. It’s not just the fact that someone works from home that defines their job as flexible, it is also how the employer allows the employee to manage some of the parameters around when and where they are working. This idea of flexible workforce management is where the process can really evolve and improve – both for employers (who can benefit from higher employee engagement and productivity, and lower attrition) and employees (who frequently cite a better work-life balance as well as benefitting by losing the travel to and from work).

Work-life balance studies have been taking place for almost a century, but at the end of the day it is not working from home alone that creates flexibility. Employers and governments need to recognise this if we are going to create a new framework for how modern companies operate and look after their people.

How Will Companies Manage The Transition From WFH To Hybrid?

Each day is now bringing more positive news about the end of the pandemic. Although there are still concerns about the variants, the situation is far better than a year ago when we had no vaccines and idea how long the crisis would run for.

Many governments, including here in the UK, are now actively working on plans that should see a a new phase where the public is expected to remain cautious, but the various lockdowns, restrictions, and mask mandates will all be relaxed. The next key date for the UK is July 19th. After this date, the government will remove all Covid restrictions and this includes the advice to work from home, although the PM Boris Johnson has said that it will be up to individual companies to decide on whether to recall everyone to the office or to continue some home working – there will no longer be any direction from Whitehall.

Naturally this is going to have a big impact on companies and the use of offices. Every office-based employee moved to a work-from-home (WFH) environment in March 2020 and now the discussion is focused on how to return to the office. Naturally, when there was a crisis, it was easy to mandate that everyone has to work from home. Now that we are seeing an end to restrictions, the situation is less clear cut. The government is making it clear that they are now leaving it up to employers.

Last month, the British government announced a flexible working taskforce to explore all the potential future options. One of the suggested ideas was a default right to work from home – so all office-based employees would automatically have the right to tell their employer where they plan to work from.

The situation is fairly confusing, because this taskforce is just exploring ideas – these are not new rules or regulations yet. Many companies, including most of the tech giants, have announced that they will permanently embrace flexible working. Many of their employees enjoyed the increased flexibility of WFH and want to keep it as an option. So if you work for Salesforce or Twitter then it’s likely that you can pick and choose the days that you spend time in the office and time at home.

Spotify is a good example, because they have at least thought about it carefully. They will repurpose all their office estate so employees have office facilities, but it may not look like it did before the pandemic – individual desks for use by one person are probably now entering the history books.

But the confusion over this return to the office demonstrates that the creation of a productive and positive network of home-based workers is about far more than just connecting people together on Slack and allowing them to work anywhere.

The most recent Harvard Business Review podcast features some thoughtful suggestions from Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. Professor Bloom has studied the economic effect of home working for several years and he makes some valid points in the podcast. These include the problems of managing real estate use if employees have complete freedom over when and where they work. Also, the difficulties of planning meetings where some team members are on Teams or Zoom and some are crowded together in a meeting room.

Professor Bloom advises that companies will probably need to mandate the days that can be used as home working days – either at a company level or with individual team managers deciding. Either way, for meetings to run effectively he believes that everyone should be entirely remote or all in-person.

Whether you agree or not, what Professor Bloom is pointing out is the danger of a twin-track workforce. He argues that, when everyone works from home, it is more likely that their performance is measured on output – i.e. what do they deliver? Once some team members are visible back in the office then the old problems of judging people based on perceived effort, hours at the desk, and who has lunch with which manager all come back into view. The playing field is no longer level.

It takes effort to make a fully remote team work well together because it is about more than just the process. It requires organisations to adopt a virtual mindset across everything that they do – from recruitment to training, management, security and scheduling.  It also requires them to recognise the importance of flexible working and self-scheduling to  enable homeworkers to enjoy an improved work-life balance.

At SensĂ©e we’ve been focused on WFH since 2004 – long before the pandemic arrived – so these are issues that we’re very familiar with.  Nevertheless, the point should not be lost.  The key question for many organisations is no longer ‘how do we make homeworking work?’ it is ‘how do we make hybrid working work?’ And that calls for a whole new mindset.

Sensée Creates 500 New Work-from-Home Contact Centre Roles

Sensée, the work-from-home specialist, is creating 500 new permanent and temporary positions to meet the growing demand for homeworking staff.

The vacancies are for Customer Contact Advisors, Team Managers and back office staff to work for new and existing clients. Start dates are immediate.

Applications from people of all backgrounds, levels of experience, gender and age are welcome. Contact centre experience is preferred but not essential. Customer service and other job-specific training is provided.

SensĂ©e is the UK’s only 100% work-from-home contact centre specialist with fully-employed homeworkers. The company has 17 years experience of operating and refining its homeworking model and manages customer contacts on behalf of many household brands as well as a number of Government departments.

“We are delighted to announce these new permanent and temporary roles in response to the growing demand for work-from-home personnel” said Paul Whymark, Chief Operating Officer of SensĂ©e. “A vast number of people have experienced the benefits of homeworking during lockdown and many are now considering their options as organisations contemplate a full time return to the office. We predict a major surge in demand for full and part time homeworking careers where people can balance work with their other daily tasks and priorities.”

Candidates can apply today for the new roles at www.sensee.co.uk

When is homeworking right for you?

SensĂ©e maybe a business that’s been 100% homeworking (and promoting home and hybrid working best practice) for over 17 years but we’ve always been the first to recognise that homeworking isn’t for everyone.

So how do you know when it is likely to  work? And how do you estimate its true potential?

With the Government currently considering its stance on ‘advising’ businesses to go back to the office, and many organisations announcing their post lockdown office-versus-home strategies, there’s never been a better time to address those questions.

Deloitte’s recent statement certainly attracted a lot of attention. The professional services giant said that 20,000 UK workers can decide how often they come into the office once the pandemic is over ‘in balance with their professional and personal responsibilities’.

It is a bold move, and in contrast to some of its rivals.  PwC, for example, said it expects its workers to spend at least 40% of their time with colleagues, in the office, or on client visits, once COVID-19 restrictions allow; while it was reported in May that EY expects UK workers to spend around two days a week working from home, splitting the rest of their time between the office and client workplaces.

The only logical conclusion one can draw is that there’s no blueprint for hybrid working success yet, even amongst those in the same sector.

Another interesting question raised by Deloitte’s move is ‘when will homeworking be in balance with someone’s professional and personal responsibilities?’ For it’s not always down to the individual to decide whether work-from-home (WFH) is desirable or appropriate.  Sometimes it’s more down to the employer.

The obvious example is when a job is location-specific. If you work in a shop or a factory, WFH is rarely an option (unless of course you take your business online).  The same is true if you run a leisure centre or play football.

Then there are those who can’t do their jobs as effectively at home because their employers don’t provide the virtual tools and processes to enable them to do so. Being a Management Consultant who can operate effectively with a computer, a broadband connection, a phone and a headful of knowledge is one thing. Being a contact centre advisor that works as part of team, reliant on specialist systems and processes to operate, communicate, manage, train and schedule efficiently  is something else.

To operate WFH successfully often takes a virtual mindset across everything from recruitment to scheduling and that can take a lot of planning, knowledge, investment – and commitment.

When considering your hybrid options, it is also important to take into account that many people don’t want to WFH. It is probably not what they signed up to when they joined your business.

Some people – and especially younger age groups – crave the social interaction and the coffee machine chat they get in the office. The drive into work can be a valued part of their daily work routine too. It is part of who they are… and we are all different.

There are advantages to working in the office just as there are advantages to working from home. Where WFH works best is when the advantages of ‘voluntary’ homeworking (flexible working hours, no commute to work, no time wasted travelling to work etc.) outweigh the advantages of working in the office. And then, only when your job is conducive to WFH and your employer has made all the necessary investments and prepared properly for the move.

There’s been a temptation during lockdown to think of WFH in binary terms: i.e. it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Home and hybrid working is actually a lot more complex than that.

(Online Workshop) Communications, Training and Colleague Engagement in a Hybrid World

Chair: Jane Thomas, South West Contact Centre Forum and Call North West
Date: July 1st 2021
Time: 12.00 to 13.00pm

In this interactive Q&A panel session, we will discuss the importance of Communications, Training and Colleague Engagement in the new world of Hybrid (home/office) working and 100% work-from-home (WFH).

  • Are there quick solutions when it comes to Colleague Engagement
  • How will the role of the Team Leader change post-lockdown?
  • What role can Communications play in keeping Engagement high? And the role of on-going Training?
  • How do we ensure home and office-based employees are treated the same?
  • What should a homeworker set up look like?
  • What does a great TL development programme look like?

Jane Thomas will be joined by experts from Sensée, the Work From Home specialists: Andrea Daggett (Trainer), Sarah Birch (Department Head) and Caroline Pile (Team Leader).

Agenda

12.00 – 12.05: Introductions and Agenda (Jane Thomas)
12.05 – 12.15: What Will The World of Hybrid Work Look Like? (Sarah Birch)
12.15 – 12.35: Q&A panel (Jane Thomas with Andrea Daggett and Caroline Pile)
12.35 – 13.00: Open Floor Q&A session led by Jane Thomas

We hope you can join us.

Register for the online workshop

Is The Office Water Cooler Really A Font Of Innovation?

Most of the supporters of office culture say that you don’t get those all-important water cooler conversations when working from home. There is no random meeting with people from outside your immediate team or serendipity. Innovation comes from bouncing ideas around a busy office.

But the reality is usually nothing like that. Many people are dreading a return to the office not because it means they will have to start commuting again – although that is a good reason in itself – but because they feel lonely and isolated. They don’t enjoy the shallow relationships they have in the office environment. They feel more connected to colleagues through digital tools rather than physical proximity.

Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at the Insead business school in France, and Constance Hadley, an organisational psychologist at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business recently published a study in the MIT Sloan Review after interviewing hundreds of executives just before the pandemic.

Almost 80% of the research participants said they struggle to connect to team members and 58% felt that their work relationships are superficial. The study suggests that when work structures were more strictly hierarchical it allowed better relationships to form because workers spent more time with people doing similar tasks. The global 24/7 team is more agile and cost-effective, but people can be working on different time zones or hopping in and out of projects for short periods.

The Financial Times recently quoted one of the workers featured in this study: “I am interchangeable, they have made it so anyone can do my job on the team. Maybe they would miss me, but I am not so sure.” This loss of camaraderie cannot be fixed just by getting everyone back in the office again, it is a cultural failing if workers feel that they are merely an interchangeable cog in the machine.

It’s clear that some professional jobs require an in-person experience – banking or consultant roles that rely on apprentices learning on the job rely on this – but in most cases office-based jobs can be performed remotely. The past year has proven this and most companies are now exploring a hybrid future where workers can stay at home more often.

However, this Insead research demonstrates that for many professionals there is no daily lightning bolt of innovation by the water cooler, merely the drudge of listening to conversations about football, nights out, and the soaps. Banter doesn’t lead to productivity or a feeling of control over your working day.

Many digital natives, particularly those in Generation Z and millennials, are familiar with tools that allow them to interact virtually with friends and colleagues. When these workers say that they have better relationships with remote colleagues than the people they work with in the office, then you know that there is a cultural problem in your organisation. Hauling everyone back to the office is not the answer.

 

(Free eBook) Work-Life Balance: How To Get More From Homeworking

SensĂ©e’s recently published ebook ‘How’s Your Work-Life Balance?’ explores twenty tried and tested tips to help homeworkers get a better work-life balance.

This is an important subject as over 90% of contact centre workers were working from home during lockdown (Source: Gartner) and SensĂ©e’s own research found that 86% of companies that used home working during the pandemic were considering it as a long-term strategy.

The ebook was primarily created for SensĂ©e’s own homeworkers, but is now freely available.

SensĂ©e’s homeworkers have always chosen to work-from-home (WFH) – so their situation is different to most office-based workers affected by the pandemic. However, a lot has changed since 2019. Many workers forced to WFH during the pandemic may soon be asking their employers for more flexible work schedules. And most employers are now in the process of defining how they will manage the slow return to normality that is becoming possible because of the vaccination rollout.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to work from home. There is no typical homeworker but one reason is repeated more often than others when homeworkers are asked to explain their preference for avoiding the office: work-life balance.

If your life involves caring for children, caring for elderly relatives, living with a disability, or living in a remote location then the idea of a long commute to an office followed by eight to ten hours in an office, followed once again by a commute home isn’t a positive vision of how work should be. We all have responsibilities away from our job, but too many people are often forced to make difficult choices about how to prioritise these activities.

Many people actively seek home working opportunities because they want to balance these responsibilities with their work. They want to remain employed and to gain the sense of achievement and fulfilment we all get from working, but not at the expense of everything else in their life.

Recent research by Citrix found that 90% of Millennials and Generation Z – meaning everyone under the age of about 40 – do not want to return to full-time work based in an office. Younger workers are demanding flexibility even if they are not 100% working from home. The overwhelming number of workers demanding greater flexibility shows that a greater acceptance of working from home will be one of the major changes caused by the pandemic.

The ebook advises on setting agendas in advance, getting into a daily work routine, and reducing your distractions. It is full of tips that can help homeworkers to gain more control over their working life so it can be more easily balanced with their other responsibilities. This will be a new reality of working life in the 2020s even for those workers that occasionally need to visit their office.

Read the new SensĂ©e ebook ‘How’s Your Work-Life Balance’ by clicking here.

(Free White Paper) Did 2020 kill the BPO industry as we know it?

With contact centres facing unprecedented challenges, 2020 should have been the year when the customer management BPO sector stole the limelight.

But as Davies Consulting Group Director Mike Havard explains, it didn’t quite work out that way – at least not for the more ‘traditional’ providers.

Instead, as clients have begun to realise the opportunities from more virtual working as well as automation and digital innovations for their customer service operations, it’s time for the BPO sector to carve out a new role: as specialist providers, adding value to the customer experience rather than just helping cut operational costs.

In this paper, in collaboration with SensĂ©e, Mike considers how BPO providers can adapt to this changing landscape – and how prospective clients can ensure they’re using outsourced partners more effectively within their customer management.

View the White Paper (Best viewed in 2 page format)

 

 

 

 

 

(eBook) How’s Your Work-Life Balance?

Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to work-from-home.

For some people it is because they can’t hold down a normal 9 to 5 office job, for others it is because they prefer to work from home. There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ homeworker.

At SensĂ©e, we count amongst our numbers ….. working mums, carers for elderly relatives, people who live with a disability, others who live in remote rural areas, and people who simply prefer the convenience and benefits of homeworking.

In this guide we give 20 tips to help you get a better work-life
balance regardless of your reasons for homeworking. Here are a few of them:

1. Work the hours that suit
2. Ensure your IT equipment is up to scratch
3. Communication is vital to combat isolation so make sure you stay in touch!
4. Get into a regular daily routine
5. Keep distractions to a minimum
6. Find yourself a dedicated workspace

To read the rest of our 20 tips, please view our Work-Life Balance eBook

SensĂ©e supports Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre

SensĂ©e was pleased to support the fantastic work of Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Forth Valley Royal Hospital near Falkirk, Scotland as part of its sponsorship of the recent 2021 Leaders In Service Summit.

The Summit was  held on 12 May and organised by Rutz Consulting, a leading operational excellence consultancy within the contact centre industry.

Monies raised at the event will go towards a patient’s full day cancer treatment at the Centre.

Maggie’s is a charity providing free cancer support and information in centres across the UK and online.

_Leaders in Service_LIVE WEBINAR SoMe image 1 sponsors