When the polar vortex shut down offices and various government activities (including postal delivery in some mid-West states in late January), it prompted some businesses to allow employees to work from home. If it worked during this bad weather, couldn’t it work just about any time? It’s clear that technology has enabled employees to work remotely. The question to answer is whether this is a good idea and, if so, how to make it work.
A business decision
Some businesses…retail stores, restaurants, hair salons…can’t offer employees the opportunity to work from their homes. But many other types of businesses can. Is this advisable? Global Workplace Analytics has statistics on the costs and benefits of “agile work strategies.” For example, statistics show that two-thirds of people want to work from home. The following are some highlights that I’ve extrapolated from this source and others.
Pros for allowing remote work arrangements
- Employee preference. In today’s tight job market, permitted employees to work from home on a full-time basis or periodically may be a way to retain qualified workers. Many (although not all) employees like this work arrangement because it saves on their work-related expenses, enables them to organize their work-life balance, and likely reduces their stress.
- Cost savings. To the extent you don’t have to provide space for employees on the premises, you can reduce your required square footage (perhaps subletting what you already lease if this is permissible).
- Finding talent. If you don’t need workers on site, you have access to a wider pool of workers and stand a better chance of hiring exactly who you need.
- Environmental concerns. The fact that employees don’t have to commute is a benefit to the environment.
Cons for allowing remote work arrangements
- Reduced productivity. There is a concern that employees working remotely may be distracted by personal matters and not devote complete attention to work.
- Challenges with collaboration. In today’s business environment where there’s an emphasis on team work, seeing that this happens with remote workers presents problems.
- Increased administrative issues. Permitting employees to work remotely may involve payroll issues if they are based in another state. And companies with workers in another state also need to address workers compensation and other insurance matters.
Effectively managing remote workers
Take it from someone who’s worked from home for more than 35 years, some of which time was as a remote employee…working from home can work well for both the employee and the company. But it’s up to the company to have guidelines to make the work arrangement work.
- Set company policy regarding choice. Can anyone work from home at any time? Are there to be limits (e.g., 2 days a week or a certain number of hours each day)? Does the work arrangement have to be cleared with a supervisor or does the employee merely need to inform a supervisor when working from home?
- Determine communication channels. How are you going to interact with remote workers? This can be by email, videoconferencing, or some corporate messenger (e.g., Slack).
- Assess the arrangement. Not all employees will be able to make working from home an effective arrangement for the company. Some employees may lack the discipline to tune out personal distractions and concentrate on business. Decide how often to assess the situation.
- Keep remote workers in the loop. This goes back to communication. Be sure that meetings are scheduled in advance so remote workers can participate in person if desired or required.
Some big companies, such as Aetna, Bank of America, IBM, and Yahoo, have reduced or eliminated telecommuting. This presents an opportunity for small businesses to offer what these and some other large companies don’t: a work arrangement preferred by workers. If you decide to allow employees to work from home, be sure to review the arrangement with your insurance agent and attorney to make sure you’ve covered your bases.