While doing some research for an upcoming post, I came across this article written by Richard Laermer, Founder and CEO of New York-based RLM Public Relations, about why he cancelled his company’s work-from-home policy last year. In case you don’t want to read the whole thing, here is a summary in a few bullet points:
- About a year prior to the article, Laermer began offering telecommuting as a perk to his employees, telling them that they could “phone it in” on Fridays.
- He found, to his dismay, that generally, his team was using those Fridays as an extra paid vacation day.
- Employees would gripe and roll their eyes when their managers would try to reach out to them during the day. They became very slow to respond to correspondence from their managers.
- Other employees would refuse to come into the office on their work-from-home day for client meetings because they had plans to use that time to travel out of town (the Hamptons, for example).
- He also mentioned that the office, in general, became demotivated and non-collaborative.
He’s Not Alone In His Thinking
Working remotely has been a hot topic in corporate America for the past 10 years; however, many company leaders, including Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and IBM’s CMO Michelle Peluso, have ditched this flexible work option (though I should note that Yahoo has recently reversed their decision.)
As leaders and bosses, fringe benefits can be a great way to attract and retain our top talent, and the opportunity to work remotely once a week goes a long way as a perk for some people (not everyone, I know).
I’ve known many friends and professional colleagues in my past who relied on the option to work from home to increase their productivity and help add some balance back to their lives. And I personally have had a great deal of success working from home (dare I say I’m actually more productive from home with kids around than I am in an office!)
Can A Work-From-Home Policy Be Successful Within Your Organization?
So this all got me thinking: can an organization-wide work from home policy ever be successful? How and why can this arrangement work so well for some, and be less successful for others? For the sake of illustration, here are 5 modifications I would make to the above experiment to ensure higher productivity rate and better results when your employees work-from-home:
- Choose your words carefully. Please do not ever use the term phone it in. To “phone it in” means to not put forth your best effort. Each employee needs to take work just as seriously from home as they do in the office.
- If your team is using the time as a travel day for the weekends, try a day other than Fridays. Let’s face it – people go into weekend mode on Fridays (hey, we’re all only human!) and we begin to relax and unwind from the week. Remember when “casual Fridays” described how people could dress down on Fridays? Now we pretty much dress casually all the time, but I digress…. Try offering Tuesdays or Wednesdays instead. This way, your team can’t use the day to simply extend their weekend.
- Lay out the expectations clearly. Make it clear to your team that the expectations remain the same as if they are in the office. Yes, there may be conference calls or meetings where you will be expected to participate and engage. Yes, due dates for assignments are expected to be met. Yes, IMs/emails/phone calls should be answered promptly. And yes, you may even need to come in on a day you originally planned on working remotely, if work dictates it.
- Create a trial period and give feedback. Try the arrangement for 90 days and be sure to give feedback to your team along the way. What’s working and what’s not working? Communication is key here.
- Encourage collaboration through tech. I’m not arguing that there is nothing at all to be gained from groups collaborating in person. However, for one day a week, managers can help their teams’ collaboration via a variety of technological options. Slack, GChat, and Asana are just three easy and free collaboration tools that can help ensure a team’s cohesiveness.
Proper Management Is Key
I would argue that whether a remote work arrangement is successful or not depends largely on the manager’s approach. If the team leader lays out clear expectations from the beginning, her employees will suffer no illusions about what working remotely successfully really means.
Now that we’ve figured that out, can we talk about the real productivity thief within the office? The dreaded open office layout!!