A research team’s experiences of working remotely
I joined the University of Manchester in 2007 having worked for many years in various roles within the NHS (predominantly and latterly in research). My role as the British Association of Dermatologists Biologics and Immunomodulators Register (BADBIR) Study Co-ordinator required visits to hospital sites across the UK and Ireland. Therefore, working remotely was a requirement from the get go. I enjoyed the flexibility this afforded me and wanted to explore how this opportunity could be extended to the entire BADBIR team.
The BADBIR data collection is entirely web-based www.badbir.org and thus allows for the vast majority of the workload to be undertaken from any location. In consultation with my assistant Ian, we developed a proposal to offer the opportunity to work remotely to all members of the team. We are a small research team, and we set this up as pilot after consultation with the Chief Investigator (Professor Griffiths) and my line manager. This has been now been running successfully for the last four years.
Like anything, there are positives and negatives to remote working, but the main things that have made a difference are:
Reduction in commute time
“It takes me 45mins to an hour commuting to work in the morning and just over an hour on the way home. If there is an accident affecting traffic then I have in the past spent 2 hours commuting one way. Sitting in traffic can be extremely frustrating and stressful. This can affect a person’s mood and energy levels before they even get into work. Therefore, having a WFH day where you don’t have to travel makes a positive impact on my personal wellbeing, physically and mentally. This ultimately has an effect on the way I work and the quality of work produced. On WFH days I also save money on petrol and food.”
“When personal matters for me were stressful, WFH allowed me to have a better work like balance. I was able to continue working but also have time to fit in additional responsibilities like doing the school run.”
“WFH also helps me attend appointments with ease. Doctors/dental appointments before or after work are popular and difficult to get especially as I have to consider an hours commute time to get to them. WFH allows me to attend these appointments easily.”
“The time I would normally spend commuting enables me to catch up on household tasks.”
“I can schedule appointments around working from home and my lunch hour.”
“I do not need to find dog care when working from home.”
“Plus there’s the reduced commute time – it saves me a couple of hours in one day, which I can then use to cook a nice meal at lunchtime, for example, which wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The fact it then feels like you’re working less definitely helps to reduce feelings of ‘burnout’ and low motivation. Also, I find it incredibly useful for things like taking my car to the garage, which wouldn’t feel like a good enough reason to use annual leave for, and would be inconvenient to work around if I was commuting as well.”
“Personally, being a software developer, it works really well for me as it gives me long periods of time to focus on problem solving. Interruptions really do hamper the work flow.”
“I also find it easier to concentrate on tasks such as finance when there isn’t the distraction of the office too.”
Boosts appreciation for other team members
“I have noticed that working from home and having some time away from the office environment and work colleagues makes you appreciate both more when you are in.”
“I know Ian has said the number of sick days taken has been drastically reduced since introducing working from home, which I think is a great benefit on its own! He’s also monitored the amount of work the admin team do in the office and at home, and I believe these numbers are comparable.”
“One perceived negative of working from home is the lack of contact with colleagues. Some are concerned this may make it more difficult to arrange meetings or have access to information for everyone to work effectively. I haven’t found this to be the case; we work from home infrequently, we hold meetings infrequently and only when required. Communicating via email and Skype for Business (which has the facility to share your screen with a colleague) means we still have access to information we need to prevent any hold-ups.”
In such a small number (n = 14), metrics to evaluate the pilot are difficult to capture. However, from comments such as those outlined previously one can assume that it has a positive impact on well-being, work/life balance and even a small benefit to the environment by reducing the yearly commute.
We are happy to share our experience with others who may be interested in exploring how a similar working pattern could work for them.
Dr Kathy McElhone
BADBIR Study Advisor