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Home Based Employees - a growing trend.

Posted on: 27 Jul 05
Home Based Employees - a growing trend.

Summary

Telecommuting. Telework. Home-based employment. Working in the field. Whatever you call it, there's no question that more and more organizations are extending to their employees the option of working from home.
Telecommuting. Telework. Home-based employment. Working in the field. Whatever you call it, there's no question that more and more organizations are extending to their employees the option of working from home. According to a recent survey commissioned by the International Telework Association and Council, the number of employees who worked from home at least one day per month more than doubled during the six-year period from 1997-2003. Indeed, home-based employment is a trend that's here to stay.

There are many reasons for this—increased efficiencies, enhanced proximity to customers, and elevated staff morale among them. Achieving these benefits, however, requires just the right balance of a very specific set of ingredients, as we learned from our conversations with several UK-based clinical research professionals, all of whom either work from home or work with home-based employees.

In this article, we'll look at the essential elements of a successful home-based employee program, potential problem areas and how to avoid them, and the typical advantages, disadvantages, and trade-offs of a telecommuting scheme.

Time management
Working from home presents unique challenges and rewards. While most argue that field-based employees are more efficient with their time, ironically, time management is one of the biggest issues they face. Nonetheless, increased flexibility, creative scheduling, and the ability to balance home and work life all contribute to employees that are more productive and efficient.

"I find working from home quite attractive. I can get up at 7:00 a.m., have a bit of breakfast, watch the news, and still be at my desk by 8:00 a.m. I don't have to battle traffic. In the same vein, if I'm working under a deadline, I can work until 7:00 and be cooking my dinner by quarter after. I'm much more efficient with my time."
- CRA

"The temptation is always to do a little bit more. I get emails from people at 1:00 a.m. If they're doing it by choice, that's fine. Maybe they can't sleep so they decide to do a bit of work. But if they can't manage time effectively, then it's a problem."
i3 Pharma Resourcing

Advantages
• Flexibility in planning their work may help employees improve the balance between work and family life
• Reduces distraction in office and employee involvement in office politics
• Increases productivity and efficiency

Disadvantages
• Employees may have blurred work boundaries and be tempted to work long into the evening and on weekends
• Distractions, especially with children in the home
• High level of boredom during quiet periods

Trust and Support
Trust and support go hand in hand. The key is establishing adequate support for the employee to do an effective job and then trusting him or her to do it. Neither micro-managing nor hands-off managerial styles are fully effective. It's an educational process for both managers and employees to find a balance that works, and maturity and experience play a significant part.

"It cannot work unless there is a very high level of trust on either side."
-i3 Pharma Resourcing

"Trust is established by bestowing trust on staff that have been carefully selected and by exercising close 'pastoral' management."
-Client

Advantages
• The employee has more autonomy to deal with the small day-to-day issues, freeing the manager to concentrate on strategic management
• Contributes to highly motivated staff

Disadvantages
• Company may feel loss of control
• Management may feel lack of trust concerning whether the employee is working or not

Personality
While creating a good match between manager and employee usually results in a positive experience, not everyone is suited for home-based employment.

Employee Personality
Home working is best suited to certain individuals with appropriate personality traits. These are: self-discipline, excellent organizational and planning skills, and goal-oriented qualities. Home employees need to be proactive, self-motivated, and capable of working independently without needing daily personal contact and feedback from their manager or others. They are often mildly introverted, meaning that they show a preference for drawing their energy from their own ideas, emotions, and impressions, rather than relying on those of other people.
Interestingly, neither a true introvert nor true extrovert is ideal. While the true introvert may enjoy the isolation, they won't feel like they are part of the company. And because they lack a strong desire to interact with people, initiating contact can become too difficult to do, which can in turn lead to their being forgotten. Conversely, the true extrovert will wither in isolation without a steady stream of feedback and praise from co-workers.

Manager Personality
The company needs to ensure that the appropriate managers supervise home working employees. These managers need superior communication and delegation skills, must be confident in the trust of their line reports, and must resist the temptation to micromanage. The manager lacking these traits will struggle to effectively manage his or her employees working from home.

"The manager needs to be available when needed for both social and business contact as a surrogate for the natural social interaction of the office. However, they should also build into their routine frequent, regular contact including accompanied visits."
Client

Geography
Providing regular contact is much more likely with improved geographical regions. While the UK is a relatively small country, it is neither quick, easy, nor cheap to travel within it. Therefore, geography places a significant role in employee efficiency.

"Because I now have one region, I save on the vast mileage of driving across the country."
CRA

"We are currently running a very complex trial in acute coronary care. The sites need additional support and on-the-spot troubleshooting during start up. This is much easier to achieve with local CRAs."
- Client

"Before, we had employees who had to drive five hours to a site. They would spend two hours, and then drive five hours home. Now, they can drive one hour and spend six hours on-site."
— Client

Advantages
• Employees situated locally to deal with geographical issues can be more responsive to customers
• A field-based job allows for smaller territories, thereby leading to greater efficiency and allowing for a broader range of responsibilities (e.g. wider range of therapy areas in clinical research)

Disadvantages
• Increased company cost for employee travel and accommodations for meetings/training held at head office
• Extra cost to set up home office space for employee
• Employee may feel isolated: "out of sight, out of mind" at head office
• Extra cost to set up home office space for employee
• Employee may feel isolated: "out of sight, out of mind"

Travelling Time
A difficult issue to resolve is whether travelling time from a home office is considered as work. According to the EU directive on the number of hours worked by employees, this should be a standard 37.5 hours a week. However, travelling time to and from meetings may mean long journeys before and after meetings and may result in working hours being well in excess of those normally worked. This is overcome, to some extent, by employment contracts stipulating that it may be necessary to incur time in addition to the standard 37.5-hour work-week.

Career development
Even though the company may benefit from addressing geographical concerns, home-based employees may feel as though opportunities for career advancement can be jeopardized simply because they are "out of sight, out of mind." The potential for a wider range of candidates for a particular position increases, as recruiting need not be limited to those living in immediate vicinity of the head office. However, a home-based employee is removed from the central decision-making point and can be left out of crucial choices.

"I saw my manager every day. I'd pop in for a chat and cup of coffee. I had a better grasp of who's who and more networking opportunities when I worked in an office."
— CRA

Technology
Although technology has improved dramatically over the past six years, trouble spots remain as many companies transition to a paperless system. Previously, all the files were kept in a specific file at home. They are now being sent to headquarters, scanned into the system, and uploaded so that any employee can access them at any time. It's a concept that practical application hasn't quite caught up with yet.

"Sometimes, I just want to look at a file—something that could be accessed instantly. Now I have to boot up the system, get online, and hope that the file is located in the right place."
—CRA

"We're in the process of implementing a project management tool. For some employees, it may take 45 minutes to an hour just to access a report that should take them 5 minutes. It can be very frustrating."
— Client

Disadvantages
• Employee lacks immediate access to important documents and files
• IT support may be limited
• Broadband access is no

A Good Idea
Many roles can be accomplished from either a head office or home location. Some industries, including the pharmaceutical industry, have embraced this concept and have large numbers of employees experienced in working in a field-based capacity. When home working suits the employee and the company, it can save money and improve productivity.
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i3 Pharma Resourcing

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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