Your Employees Working from Home – Welcome to the New Workplace

I was talking to a friend of mine who works for a company whose owner does not believe in having his employees work from home. Not even for one or two days a week. I, on the other hand, am fortunate to work for a bigger global organization that has allowed me to work from home full time for the past 5 years or so. She and I were bantering over the clear benefits of allowing a telecommuting workforce, and I thought… that is a blog post. For any employers out there trying to decide whether or not to incorporate the switch and allow your teams to work remotely, this is the article for you.

Benefits of allowing work from home

  • Most employees work harder when they work from home
    I work from home full-time. I usually start my day no later than 7am and even if I stop at 3pm, I stay online and continue to check email until 5pm. Since I work globally, I often take meetings with India or Manilla during the later hours anywhere from 7pm to 10pm. I usually don’t stop for lunch. And when I am in the midst of my work day, I’m focused. If someone calls me, I answer the phone. If someone instant messages me, I respond very quickly.

    When I worked in the office, people always came by to chat or ask questions, we went out to lunch for at least an hour, and the commute in and out was a major time suck that also zapped my energy and affected my productivity in the office. Now I basically roll out of bed, brush teeth, make coffee, and get to it. I don’t ever want anyone to accuse me of being unproductive because I work from home. It is such a cherished privilege, and I value it as such. I try my very best to stay on top of things, and I’m very effective in doing so. I don’t mind working straight through, working late or starting early because the benefits far outweigh these concessions. I won’t even call them drawbacks because they aren’t. I’m in control of my day and this is how I like it to flow.

  • If your employees slack off because they are at home, they probably slack off in the office too
    If you are dealing with an employee that is going to slack off in a work from home situation, you’ll know it pretty fast. They won’t be online, they won’t answer emails or answer calls in a timely manner, they won’t meet deadlines, and they will make mistakes. Oh, but wait, won’t they do this in the office too? Do you really want to employ someone that you have to babysit in the office to get your money’s worth? They probably aren’t an employee that you want in the first place.
  • You save money
    Having employees in the office affects your bottom line. Do you supply refreshments? Do you offer a commuter benefit such as paid transit passes? How much office space can you cut back on if you use hotel spaces rather than a dedicated cubicle or office for every employee? Don’t tell them that I mentioned this, but your employees might even be happier with smaller raises or no raises in exchange for work from home privileges. You also retain great employees because they feel loyal to such a magnanimous employer and will become very attached to the work from home perks that they might not be able to have if they change positions.

    You will probably even save on your office energy bills with fewer employees in the office. Also, a work from home employee is far less likely to print out a 20-page report and then never look at it.. you save on paper and toner and other office supplies.

  • Your employees save money
    Obviously work from home employees buy less gasoline. They also save on food costs because they aren’t eating out or time because they aren’t preparing lunches. Your employees might even be able to live somewhere less expensive if they don’t have to worry about commuting. They might get to a point where they can buy a home rather than rent because they aren’t bound by location, or they get a better opportunity to save up for a down payment from paying lower rent. If you are based in the Silicon Valley or San Francisco, this is especially important because often employees can’t afford to live where they work. This is a sad truth of California and the Bay Area, but allowing telecommuting can change that and give your employees a chance to live rather than to just exist. If they don’t realize this, you can remind them.
  • Its good for morale
    As a company owner or manager you’ve no doubt experienced the truth of “good help is hard to find.” Now picture you have a staff of happy work from home employees spending less time, effort and MONEY in getting to and from work. They’ve regained some control over their work/life balance while you experience very little change in the amount of work that gets done. Referencing back to point number 1, your best employees will probably be even more focused, committed and productive while at the same time having the flexibility to attend their children’s school functions, receive their packages from UPS and take care of personal matters without having to take the whole day off of work. They feel good about where they work appreciative and loyal. They are doing their best work on their time. Everybody wins!
  • Its good for the community and the environment
    Lower your carbon footprint by drastically reducing the amount of time your employees spend on the road and the amount of gas they use. Save wear and tear on the roads. These benefits are real.
  • Web conferencing, video conferencing and instant messaging are easy and inexpensive
    If your business requires collaboration and/or face time these tools easily help you to simulate in-person interaction. Yes, a person’s message can get lost without eye contact, but these days everyone has a webcam or can easily get one in a store or online. “We need to meet in person” should no longer be an excuse not to allow working from home.

Drawbacks

There are so few drawbacks that I hesitate to even try and conjure some up. Workers can start to feel isolated and somewhat lose their personal connection with co-workers. But hey, this is what instant messaging is for. Co workers also can’t saunter over to each other’s desks to ask a question or collaborate. I see this as a benefit, but again, this is what instant messaging and web conferencing and telephones are for.

Tips for a successful remote staff

  • Hire the right responsible people
  • Implement guidelines such as expectations about being on instant messaging, answering the phone or responding to emails
  • Set regular deadlines and plan regular meetings and check ins, but also offer a truly flexible schedule to your remote workers
  • Get the right tools:
    • Email
    • Conferencing and online meeting services (e.g. LoopUp, Face Time, Google Hangouts)
    • Instant messaging tools (e.g. Yahoo IM, Trillian, Google chat, Pidgin, Skype)
    • Project management tools (e.g. Basecamp, Trello, Smartsheet, Microsoft Project)
    • File sharing tools (e.g. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive)
    • Shared calendars (e.g. Outlook Exchange, Google Calendar)
  • Have an open mind and adopt the attitude: “I’m happy as long as all of the work is getting done well and on time.”
  • Let go of archaic ideals of how a workplace should be… the days of employees smoking around the water cooler are loooooonnnnng gone.

Many of these tips are good guidelines for managing a solid workforce anyway, regardless of whether they are in an office or telecommuting, so why not give it a try? Telecommuting can work for your company, in fact, your business will, no doubt, thrive because of it. According to the Telework Research Network, allowing telecommuting can save your business as much as $6,500 per employee per year. Weighing the benefits against this financial metric, its beginning to look like its bad business not to have a telecommuting staff. You’ll get the most out of them with the right controls in place. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, you are the boss, call them back in.

I’d love to hear what you think. If you are an employer who is set against telecommuting, if you are a work from home employee, or if you are an employee or employer considering the arrangement.. what are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments!

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