Homeworkers lack technical support

Nearly three quarters of parents rate flexible working as very important when they are looking for a new job – with homeworking the most popular form –  yet relatively few employers supply any equipment or technical support to enable workers to work outside the office, according to a survey by Workingmums.co.uk.

The survey of over 2,000 parents, sponsored by BBC Future Media, also showed that many employees still lack full confidence in remote communications tools despite their desire to work from home.

The survey found that homeworking was the most attractive type of flexible working that could be offered in a new role – with the main reason being because it allowed parents to do the school run. This rated 4% higher than saving time and money on commuting. Some 64% work some of the week from home, while a quarter work most of the time from home.

The survey showed the majority of homeworkers use their own equipment and have to deal with any problems themselves. However, 36% can call on technical support if they get into trouble.

Almost nine out of 10 working parents have a smartphone, but only 7% have one supplied by work. Some 62% own a tablet, but only three per cent say their employer gives them a tablet. Asked what equipment an employer could supply which would help with homeworking, 74% opted for a laptop, 17% felt a tablet would be most helpful and only 9% favoured a smartphone.

Some 77% check emails outside work hours with 41% doing so daily. Over two thirds have been contacted while on holiday, with 17% saying this happens frequently.

Unsurprisingly, this makes for mixed views on whether technology has helped their work life balance. Some 37% feel they have a better work-life balance as technology has allowed them to work more flexibly, 12% feel that technology means they are working all hours, but the majority (51%) feel torn – they see the benefits of working flexibly due to new technologies but also feel that it encroaches on family time.

Although parents say they favour homeworking many don’t use mobile technology such as Skype. Just 17% use Skype for work, with 48% saying they don’t like using it for work purposes. Some 40% make use of conference calls for meetings with colleagues, with 15% doing so regularly. Although 56% say they find it about the same as face-to-face meetings in terms of productivity, 34% say it is less productive and just 10% find it makes them more productive.

The majority (57%) do not use cloud-based systems. Of the 36% who do use them, only a third have had a positive experience. Similarly, of those who have taken part in online training, 40% said it was less effective than face to face training.

Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums.co.uk, said: “The survey results are interesting because they show the clear appetite for homeworking, but also suggest the need for improvements in the services required to support that, such as technical support and a better quality of tools for enabling homeworking. Companies are looking into ways to improve, for instance, the sound quality of conference calls and to train workers to use webinars and conference calls more effectively. There are also clearly concerns about how technology has affected work life balance, and businesses need to look at ways of tackling this.”

The survey also covered the issue of women working in technology. Some 8.34% of those questioned said they worked in the technology sector. Asked what obstacles they encountered, if any, the most commonly cited were a lack of flexible working, particularly part-time and homeworking roles, a male-dominated culture and the need for retraining to keep up with technological developments since many had taken time out to look after children.

Toby Mildon, Project Lead – IT at BBC Future Media, said: “Presently 24% of our team are female and we want to address this imbalance.  We’re serious about improving the diversity of our teams to better reflect the make-up of modern Britain and to engage with our audience.  We know that diverse teams make great business and help us innovate, solve problems and design amazing products.  Diverse teams help us continue being a world class broadcaster and deliver value to our audience all over the world.  We’re working hard at being an inclusive employer from flexible working practices through to encouraging school students to choose future STEM careers.”

Picture credit: Wiki Commons

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