When & Why Working from Home Became So Popular in Europe

83590611The growing phenomenon that is working from home arguably has its roots in the transitional period between the industrial era and the knowledge era which we currently inhabit.

With the rise of the Internet, and both the wealth of information and the greater facilitation of communication that this brought about, being able to work off-site increasingly became more of a reality for many roles where previously this was just not an option.

Of course, following the birth and development of the World Wide Web, video-calling software such as Skype and digital project management tools like Podio have only accelerated the popularity of working from home.

But it was some time ago, in the mid-90s, that I noticed an increasing number of examples of people who now worked from home, even if only occasionally or irregularly.

Working from home in the UK

From my personal experience within the recruitment industry, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that this trend started to really catch on in the UK — and then only with a relatively small number of companies who today might be described as forward-thinking.

So why might the  recruitment industry have been slower to adopt this trend?

Perhaps it was because one core function of recruiters is to build networks with candidates and therefore they are often naturally sociable, outgoing individuals who need to interact with those around them. Another factor may be that a lot of the data that recruiters require to operate on a day-to-day basis is confidential, and thus having access to this data outside the office was not commonly accepted for a long time.

Other reasons why it took so long for working from home to catch on in workplace environments within the recruitment industry might be that:

  • Paperwork (historically there was a lot of this) meant that being in the office was important.
  • The ‘competitive’ nature of recruitment and the  high number of calls required each day meant that team bonding and interaction were critical to success.

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Perspectives from across the globe

Nowadays, of course, working from home in the UK has become a much more accepted part of workplace culture, with almost 14% of the working population working from home back in 2014 – and that figure must surely have grown since then.

Outside the UK however, the story across Europe and Asia is somewhat different.

I know from speaking with colleagues in our offices in Singapore and Taiwan that attitudes towards work in Asia are somewhat different to those in the UK.

For example, it is considered a taboo to leave work before your boss in certain countries such as Japan, and the meaning of sick days differs greatly from what it means in Europe, with such days off reserved only for more severe illnesses and injuries. Furthermore, even in these situations, employees are often expected to use their holidays to take the time off.

With such a prevalent culture, one can see how it will be harder for home working to take hold in Asia.

In Continental Europe, the situation is also different.

Belgium

In talking to our regional manager in Brussels, he describes how working from home has only really taken off in Belgium over the past two years, with the uptake even slower in the recruitment industry.

He believes the rapid staff turnover that is unfortunately inherent in many recruitment companies is to blame for the slow uptake of home working in the industry. This is because confidence and trust from management is required for home working to be successful – line managers need to feel secure in the fact that employees aren’t abusing their ability to work from home.

This doesn’t stop my colleague from providing employees in his office with the opportunity to work from home if they need to, as he knows how important flexibility is, just as it is in the UK.

That said, he did inform me of stories he’s heard about employees being forced to work from home as offices in Brussels expand and desk space becomes a premium, which is something I haven’t heard of in the UK. An understandably controversial topic!

France

From my French colleague — another Volt regional manager — again there are nuances, some of which are significant.

His experience is that working from home became noticeable around the turn of the millennium.

One example he provided which, mirrors the situation in Brussels, is that some offices – even those built to hold thousands of employees – simply did not have the capacity for a growing workforce, and thus a temporary solution (requesting that some employees work from home instead) became a more permanent answer.

He agreed that working from home was adopted at a later stage in the recruitment industry when compared to other sectors. His reasoning was from a similar angle in that connection to others and motivation – two essential requirements for a successful recruiter – were most available in the office rather than at home. The nature of a recruiter’s role then, is what made the industry apparently reticent and rather slow on the uptake.

In France, the working from home concept is generally popular. Many individuals in our French workforce choose to work from home as they feel the lack of distractions allows them to be more productive. The flexibility also helps them contend with other aspects of life, such as family commitments and managing a work-life balance.

My colleague also mentioned the French tradition of closing during lunch hours, often around noon until 2 pm. This practice helps promote working from home, as getting any kind of external business done during these hours is difficult.

Overall, his thoughts and what he perceived to be the overarching attitude towards home working in France is that it is a modern, acceptable way to work – but for most roles should be used occasionally rather than every day. these thoughts very much echo my own.

The benefits of home working are, of course, plain for everyone to see, including:

  • Less time and energy spent commuting, meaning (usually!) a more relaxing start to the day, with more time available for work and resting.
  • A refreshing change in environment that aids employees in maintaining productivity.
  • Fewer distractions and disruptions that can hinder cooperation and efficiency.
  • Greater comfort and sense of relaxation that allows employees to flourish without workplace pressures.

Some would argue that some of those benefits are also a burden, depending on how you view it, and what type of person you are. That’s for a separate discussion.

The pressing issue is how to govern home working. It is happening, and many of us now understand why. But who gets the privilege to do so? Who decides who works from home, and how? Is there a framework for this, or is the concept too complex to pin down into a simple, structured process?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues, be it in the comments below or on social media.

MORE: Lead by Giving Your Workforce Options

Richard Herring

Richard Herring
Richard is Managing Director / Senior Vice President in Europe and Asia for VOLT, a global recruitment organisation with nearly 30 years of experience in the recruitment industry. He has been elected to serve on the APSCo Representative Committee on four occasions, serving as Chair of the Committee in 2009. He lives in Surrey and is married with two children.

Richard Herring
Richard is Managing Director / Senior Vice President in Europe and Asia for VOLT, a global recruitment organisation with nearly 30 years of experience in the recruitment industry. He has been elected to serve on the APSCo Representative Committee on four occasions, serving as Chair of the Committee in 2009. He lives in Surrey and is married with two children.

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