I have been very lucky over the span of my career in that every job I’ve had since college has allowed me some flexibility to work from home. Maybe it was just one day a week, maybe a week at home and a week at work, and now I work from home more than 50% of the time. And you know what? It really struck me as totally illogical that more companies don’t allow their employees to do this!
Yes, I realize not every industry has the luxury of a remote workforce. It would be kind of hard to build a house if you aren’t on site. This post is specifically geared towards information workers who, thanks to the wonders of the world wide web thingamajiggy, are able to perform their jobs at home as effectively as if they were sitting in their stuffy cubicle.
Sounds like common sense to me?
So… Why should companies consider a remote workforce?
Let’s face it, when an employee works at the office he/she has to get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and head out the door for a commute that averages over 100 hours per year per person. So, let’s say an average case scenario is someone spends 2 hours a day getting ready for work, getting to work and getting home from work. Plus, when they get to work, let’s be honest, they don’t start to work. They chat with people and see how they are doing; they pour a cup of crappy coffee, read their favorite web sites, read emails, chuckle at the latest Dilbert, and THEN (maybe) start to actually work. I’d be surprised if the average 8 hour day at the office entailed more than 3-4 hours of actual work.
So, let’s see how the day looks for a happy employee that works from home. They roll out of bed (more rested because they get to sleep in an extra 30 minutes). They throw on their most comfortable outfit, pour a cup of the best darned home brewed coffee in the world, turn on their computer, read emails, and chuckle at the latest Dilbert all before they would have even left the house! Plus, they aren’t getting interrupted by Suzy who needs to borrow a stapler or that creepy janitor that keeps leaving his phone number on their desk. Add into the fact that the employee isn’t clock watching all day. They don’t have to worry about getting out of there before the traffic gets bad. It’s SOO much easier to finish that last piece of work at 5pm when you are already at home.
Just imagine if the average 3-4 hours of actual work day were to double? How much more work could get done? Tack on the extra 2 1/2 weeks that are added to the work year by alleviating the commute? That’s money!
Plus, there’s an extra benefit to companies with a remote workforce that many employees don’t think about or want their companies to realize. If you work from home, it’s SOOO much harder to take a sick day. Well, what kind of sick are you? You can still answer emails? It’s okay if you aren’t feeling well this morning, you can still get all your work done for the day by working later at home. Employees loose excuses for not being productive. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword, but I think everyone wins in the end.
Working from home also does a lot to improve morale. Improved morale leads to further productivity as well as loyalty (which companies must learn to foster better in my opinion). Employees value their time and their comfort. Give them that and they will show their appreciation. Lets face it, people get on each other’s nerves when in close quarters. It’s human nature. Overall relationships can be greatly improved by getting together weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly instead of every single day of the work week. Quirks are less annoying… voices less grating… and egos less threatened. People like each other a lot more when they see each other a lot less… or maybe that’s me? Maybe people like ME more when they see me less… hmmm… maybe I have to rethink this whole post…
You may or may not be aware, but I live in the hills in Arkansas.. not exactly a high tech mecca.. According to http://www.city-data.com, the per capita income where I live is HALF what it is in Washington DC (where my company is headquartered). Median house prices are 24% of what they are in Washington, DC! 24%!! Do you realize how much it would cost me to move to a location like DC or Boston or (God forbid) San Francisco? How in the world could any company afford me and allow me to maintain any semblance of my current standard of living?
Think of the money that could be saved if all information workers were allowed to work from home.
- Reduced building costs – Fewer people in the office means you need a smaller office.
- Reduced utility costs – Smaller office means less power needed to keep it going.
- Reduced insurance costs – Smaller office and less people on site means you would pay less insurance.
- Reduced fuel costs – If you allow your employees to work from home they will save a ton of money on fuel and transit related expenses. It’s almost like an automatic raise! How much will they love you then? Here’s an interesting little web site I ran across that will calculate the “true” cost of your daily commute: http://commutesolutions.org/external/calc.html. It turns out if your daily commute is 20 miles, it is costing you over $7,000 a year! What employee would not be grateful for an automatic $7,000 raise?
- Reduced salaries – Working from home can be seen as a huge perk and will entice many to work for a reduced salary, also if you allow your employees to work from cheaper parts of the country (Arkansas?) their salaries can be greatly reduced without impact to their cost of living. Did I mention 24% of the median house cost of DC???
The Debbie Downers
For a multitude of reasons a remote workforce makes sense, but it seems it does not happen for just a very few reasons.
Clients want “Face Time”
Yeah, I hear this one all the time and live it at times as well. I understand this mentality and as a client I can understand wanting to have your consultants at arm’s length. This is actually the hardest hurdle to overcome because you have the least control over it. What’s the solution? It really depends on the client. The most effective weapon is to prove yourself to the client and have a rock star “go to” person on site so that the client feels pampered while at the same time having the rest of the tech team knock the project out of the park. I know, easier said than done, but it is doable.
But Employees get too distracted when they work from home
Sure, some employees are not capable of working from home. They can’t be trusted to do their job. They’ll use the time to go run errands, do some laundry, or catch up on TV. You know what you do? You don’t allow them to work from home! If their ADD or lack of ethics prevent them from being an effective remote worker, then that is a privilege they don’t get. Yes.. despite everything I’ve said, I do consider it a privilege to work from home and not a “right”. However, setting a “no remote work” rule because of the fear of the few taking advantage of the situation is much akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. You are only hurting yourself. Which directly leads to the next reason…
It’s not “Fair” to the employees who can’t work from home
Tough cookie! Life is not fair! Why should the workplace be fair? Organizations should care more about their employees working to their full potential than making the workplace “fair” for everyone. Not everyone can be productive from home (or trusted), not everyone’s job can be done from home (sorry), and sometimes well-meaning clients just have to have that face time. That’s the way it goes. If an employee can’t accept that, then there is a deeper issue going on there. We have WAY too many entitled people in this world… which is another soapbox I will not step up on today....
Let’s Face it..
It’s 2011, and although we were so lied to by both the Jetsons and Marty McFly about the wonders that awaited us, the technology that exists today allows for a far greater level of remote work than is currently being accomplished. The only thing in the way of breaking most companies through to a new level of productivity and employee satisfaction is fear. Fear of what the client will say, fear that the employee will be goofing off, or fear that someone will complain because it’s not fair.
So, what can you do? How do you get past the fear? Here’s an idea. Allow your employee’s to work from home 1 day a week. See how that goes. Make sure it is a Tues, Wed, or Thurs to help reduce the temptation to make it a long weekend. Make sure the employee gives you a very detailed status email first thing in the morning with “What I plan to accomplish today” and a very detailed email at the end of the day with “What I accomplished today”. Make it clear that this is a privilege. If they don’t perform, the privilege is taken away. I think many companies will be surprised at the results. Give it a try, I dare you.
Yes, I realize there’s nothing earth shattering or new here, but maybe there’s some nugget that you didn’t think about before or maybe you are thinking about it in a new way. Regardless, it gave me the opportunity to step on my soapbox once more and you know what.. that can be therapeutic… so at least *I* got something out of this post.
Now back to your regularly scheduled SharePoint blog…