Afraid of Letting People Work from Home?
Last year during a higher ed panel discussion, I mentioned that most of my team works from home several days a week. In fact, sometimes an employee is only in the office one or two days a week.
This immediately generated questions about productivity, how I keep tabs on their work, and whether HR approves of this policy. (What HR doesn’t know won’t hurt them, I said, but in our case HR knows and takes a similar stance to mine.)
Today, I saw an infographic about the rise of mobile workers enabled by increasing use of mobile devices. And recently, there was this Dilbert cartoon poking fun at traditional work setups:
Behind the Fear of Letting Employees Work from Home
The biggest reason managers are afraid of these kinds of arrangements is the lack of control. Managers can’t see their employees working, can’t pop in to make sure they’re being productive, and can’t measure the time they’re spending. For a long time, I got advice to the effect of “be the first one in and the last one out.” Presumably, working hard means working a lot of hours. And obviously, this only happens in the office.
The problem I found, in my early years of employment, was that I often went home and continued working. There wasn’t any difference between the office and my living room. In fact, I sometimes logged more hours working at home during nights and weekends than I did during the regular work schedule.
Drawbacks to Working from Home
The first problem is the blurring of work and home. Television, your family, the refrigerator – these can all help pull you away from your focus on work. Not everyone is disciplined enough to balance this, but it helps to create a specific work space and set expectations for yourself and your family about when you’re working. I’ve heard it helps to dress up as if you’re going in to work, though I rarely do this unless I have a video chat. Comfort is one of the biggest benefits, in my mind. It’s also possible to go the other way – to work extra hours without really intending to – and find yourself out of balance.
A second problem is the lack of organic, collaborative interaction with your colleagues. This continues to be a struggle in our office. Sometimes you need a quick meeting with people, and the phone or video chat are poor substitutes. And frankly, meetings where one person is present on the phone often leads to talking over each other, misunderstanding tone, and altering the emotion in the room. Technology hasn’t perfectly addressed this yet.
Overcoming Our Fears
My policy is that as long as you get your work done, hit your deadlines, and are reachable and responsive – it doesn’t really matter when or where you work. If those aren’t happening, then working from home might be the problem. Or it could be something else – and that’s our job as managers to address. Simply being in the office certainly isn’t a cure-all for productivity ills.
We can’t police what everyone is doing all the time. And if we’re honest with ourselves, does it really matter? What matters is the result: I need good (no, great) work done and I need it on time. If you take a break to write a blog post or watch a YouTube video, did it stop you from getting your job done?
As they say, work isn’t a place you go but a thing you do.