Employees love the option to work from home, but some employers still pretty much hate the idea. How can you keep tabs on an employee who’s literally not in the office? How can you ensure that they spend their day working and not just running errands, golfing or binge-watching a new TV series on Netflix? If they ain’t at their desk, they ain’t working—right?
Well, not necessarily.
Before I get into the details of how modern technology can help employers (at least those who run offices) make working from home a reality, I want to talk about the history of this practice in our country and why experimenting with this idea may make sense for your organization.
Dot-com to blame?
Up until the late 90’s, working from home was unusual. Along came the Internet and, with it, the first dot-com revolution. Young, brash tech entrepreneurs challenged the business status quo. They expected employees to work insane hours. In return, they provided employees with incentives—like over-the-top equity deals, funky office spaces, unheard of on-site amenities (a day care at the office—really?!?) and the opportunity to work from home, too.
Progressive work environments like these became the envy of corporate employees stuck in depressing cubicles across North America. The cultural impact of the tech industry combined with the proliferation of Internet access, email and laptops has made working from home enormously popular. Per StatsCan, over a million non-self-employed Canadians work from home, at least part of the time, and that number continues to grow.
And why not?
If your employees get their work done, does it really matter where they do it? Many successful companies implement a task- (not time) based management approach. When employees focus on completing clearly identified, incremental assignments (versus just punching a clock), productivity goes up. And I’d argue that morale does too.
Any experienced business leader can tell you that morale can make or break a company’s culture. Low morale translates into more sick days and turnover, so it’s quantitatively expensive. When it makes sense, giving employees the option to work from home demonstrates compassion, flexibility and trust. It’s a sure-fire way to help keep spirits high.
Other good reasons to let employees work from home
The weather. In a country like ours, every employer needs to ready themselves for winter. In most of the country, snow storms can shut down (or at least significantly slow down) our cities. It makes sense to anticipate the inevitable and to prepare employees to work remotely.
Childcare. Kids get sick. When they do, somebody’s got to stay home. And if your employee is a single parent (which happens a lot), they often have double-duty on the home front. If you value these employees, help them stay productive no matter where they have to work.
Focus. As great as they can be for collaboration, some offices can get very hectic and noisy. The constant interruptions can hamstring productivity. Sometimes, allowing an employee to focus on an important assignment by working from home can translate into better results, faster.
Competitiveness. As working from home becomes increasingly pervasive, my experience has been that prospective employees generally expect it as an option. If you don’t offer employees work-life flexibility, there’s a good chance someone else will…
Stupid commutes. We all know somebody who drives hours everyday to and from work. And while these folks will sometimes insist they don’t mind it, they’re often worse for wear. Allowing them to avoid a day or two of commuting can reduce their stress… and your mileage costs!
How to make it happen
If you’ve held off on allowing employees to work-from-home before now, I suggest you start small. Maybe one day a week, or even, a month? You’ll need to prepare them with a clear set of specific, daily tasks and the tools to realize them. I’d suggest a laptop or all-in-one device like Surface, plus a secure document management/sharing system like SharePoint.
For the best results…
You may also want to consider a platform like Skype for Business, which keeps employees connected with amazing results. Team members can “see” each other in real-time. They can chat with instant messaging, share files and hold unlimited audio and video conferencing meetings—all on the fly. As a live and informal collaboration tool, Skype for Business is a game-changer. Plus, it can save you a ton of money, too, in pointless mileage and business trip costs.
Both SharePoint and Skype for Business are available with an Office 365 for Business subscription, which (naturally) I recommend. But regardless of which tools you choose for your team, I’d encourage you to have an open mind about empowering employees to work from home. With the right plan in place, you can make your team more agile and successful.
Do you have a work-from-home policy in place? What’s your experience been like? What tips would you share with fellow entrepreneurs? Feel free to tell us your story!