Many businesses are considering the option of allowing people to work from home. Whilst it won’t suit every kind of job, advancements in communications technology make it very possible for many tasks and jobs.
But there is still an uncertain element for many managers. There are clear advantages, not having to commute to and from the office gives the employee up to an extra three hours per day to either work or use as free time. Either way, you would expect productivity to increase without the drain of daily travel.
Here are some of the main issues that need to be discussed to ensure the most productive work-from-home arrangement:
Knowing that your team member is actually working and not lounging around watching TV (or even worse, collecting a salary from you and working for someone else!) is vital. It may pay to be wary of someone who is new to the company that is requesting working from home before they have ‘runs on the board’.
On the other side of the equation, you can engender trust by permitting someone to work from home. It can help immensely with work/life balance and can really assist people that have families and have to negotiate collecting children from day-care/school.
Targets – setting clear expectations
If you are in a work-from-home situation then you must be very clear on expectations. The first decision is whether you will measure productivity in hours or outcomes. If it is in hours then you will set a minimum amount of time that you expect the employee to commit to their job. You therefore allow flexibility around this.
The alternative is setting outputs as an expectation, in which the employee can work to goals of how much work is produced, rather than how much time it takes to produce. As long as both manager and employee are clear on what the arrangement is, violations of trust will be avoided. If you are working from home and aren’t clear on what is expected of you then it is time to have a talk with your manager.
Do we need to communicate? Urgency and flexibility
The biggest advantage of having an entire team working in a single office is the ease of communication. If an urgent meeting is required, or you simply want to get two or three people from separate departments together to discuss something then it is easily done.
If people are working from home and utilising the flexibility that comes with that then all of a sudden it is infinitely more difficult to align timetables for discussions. To avoid this you need to have a fixed time per week where everyone is available to meet if required. It is a simple measure that can save a lot of heartache down the track. In addition agreed use of Skype session times can also really help.
Determining best ways to communicate
It’s critical to agree on the ways to communicate and not assume everyone likes the same.
Because the nature of communication changes so much with a work-from-home arrangement, you really need to work with your manager or employees about rules of communication. I communicate mostly by email, knowing that my employees will respond as soon as they can. If it is urgent, I will send a text and phone calls are used when a two-way dialogue is needed to explore a specific issue or problem.
Text vs email vs phone calls vs Skype vs must meet – what works best and in what situations? Have you had this discussion?
Managing files and protocols
One reason that many organizations resist the push to allow people to work from home is a fear of reduced security around file storage. Within the confines of a building the IT department can ensure secure connections and firewalls to prevent viruses and hacking of important and sensitive information. When someone connects to the network externally it opens up vulnerability from their home network and adds another level of complexity for IT staff.
Beyond these security measures, managers and employees need to agree on the preferred use and sharing of files, as things can get very confusing and difficult if everyone is operating in a different way.
Overall, the jury is still out on whether working from home is better than working in an office. In many ways it depends on the individual and their work ethic, ability to stay focused and manage time demands. Work-life balance can be more blurred when working from home – so it is vital to be clear with communication, expectations and boundaries.
Eve Ash has produced a wide range of resources on managing staff and self. Her video programs Wellbeing and Balance, Employer of Choice and Managing a Virtual Team explore some of these challenging issues.