Steven Strauss Column: Working from Home
November 10, 2011
I have an employee who has asked me if she can work from home a couple of days a week. I know that this is obviously the trend in business, but I don’t really like the idea. I like having my employees where I can see them. Am I wrong?
To me, it’s almost strange to hear about someone who does NOT work from home at least occasionally. At this time when technology has enabled us to work whenever and wherever we want, that someone is not taking advantage of that is almost downright strange.
Except it’s not. There are a ton of businesses out there who continue to work the old-fashioned way, that is, at an office, at a desk, from 9 to 5. And they do so for good reasons:
• It works for them
• It’s how they have always done business
• It’s comfortable
But do you know what else? It’s also a mistake. Any business that is not figuring out how to take advantage of the technology/work/Internet/mobile revolution in such a way that at least allows their employees to telecommute on occasion is blowing it.
Here’s why: There are a multitude of benefits to you and very few detriments by letting your staff work from home as needed. For starters, you will attract a better class of potential employees by making this a perk of work (and a perk that costs you little to boot). Most employees today do not expect to be chained to a desk. You will have a happier, more loyal workforce if telecommuting becomes part of your benefits package – people like it. Telecommuting boosts morale.
You will also likely have a more productive employee. Sure, I know you fear that they will goof off if given the chance to work from home, and you know what? They will. But they will also get their work done; there are ways to ensure that (below.) Studies in fact show that people who work from home occasionally are actually more productive than they are at the office.
Another great advantage of allowing telecommuting to employees is that it can save you a lot of money. Two examples:
• I know one business owner who recently closed up shop altogether and told his staff of 10 to work from home. They still get together once a week in person, but he saves thousands a month in rent, utilities, and other overhead.
• I have another pal who built his whole business by hiring nothing but independent contractors who work from home. He is not responsible for costs and benefits as he would be for employees who work in an office and again, the money he saves is significant.
For employees, the reasons to want to telecommute are self-evident: They can make their own schedule, have a better work/life balance, save money not commuting, spend time with their family instead of in the car, and it breaks up the routine of the week.
So I say you are being myopic, and probably controlling and petty, if you demand that your staff work under your constant gaze. Let go. Loosen the grip.
Start slow: Let the employee try it for a set amount of time to see if it works, and limit the telecommuting at the start to once a week. After a month or two – after the trial period ends – you can both evaluate the experience and decide if it is working. I bet that it will if for no other reason than the employee will want to make a great impression so as to keep going.
Have specific deliverables: The employee should understand which deliverables are required to be done every week. That way, even while they are at home, you can be assured that he or she knows that if the work does not get done, the bene goes away.
Have them check in: If you really want to be a stickler about accountability, have them check in by phone, text, or email while away (though I suggest that this subverts the value of treating employees as if they were real grownups.) But having regular evaluation meetings is a good idea.
Have them be available: Just because an employee may be gone from the office, they should still be accessible throughout the day. Make sure that that is part of the deal.
Telecommuting: It doesn’t cost, it pays.
Today’s Tip: I recently spoke with Charley Moore, the founder of the great site RocketLawyer, one of the most popular legal sites in the world, and it’s no wonder why: Your first document at RocketLawyer is always free, the others are incredibly affordable, and the online interview-driven interface is easy and intuitive. And if you need an actual lawyer, the site will help you get one. All in all, RocketLawyer is a fantastic resource for any small business person. Steve says check it out.