Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Not Work From Home?

A twitter geek working from home
A friend of mine sent me a link to Laura Vanderkam's most recent BLOG entry which talks about the advantages to business of allowing their employees to work from home and it got me to thinking.

A lot of companies and managers don't seem to like the concept, and it isn't appropriate to all jobs.  You can't really build tractors or do brain surgery at home for example.  However for many jobs it is entirely feasible to spend little or no time at a central office. The fear some managers have of course is that people will be off playing golf, taking naps, watching TV, etc. rather than doing work.  There are a number of  reasons why a particular company or manager might be against their employees working from home.  To be blunt, most of those reasons likely fall in the area of lousy personnel management policies and procedures.

Probably the toughest, and most important job of any manager is providing support, guidance and feedback to the people who work for them.  This is particularly difficult in companies that don't have a well defined and easily understood appraisal process. If you can't see the people who work for you every day, how can you tell that they are getting anything done?  Well, the truth is, if you have to see people to know that they are busy you've already lost the battle.  I've witnessed more than one person over the course of my career who was adept at looking busy while getting almost nothing done.  In many cases they managed to fool management.  Why?  Generally because performance measures either didn't exist or were never actually evaluated. There are very few jobs where there aren't at least a few tangible ways to tell that the people who work for you are being productive.

You have to be careful about which measures you choose of course as people will naturally try to game the system and choosing poorly can have unintended negative consequences.  For instance basing bonuses and raises for sales people off of sales alone without also figuring in margins is likely not a good plan.  If that million dollar sale ends up costing you $1.2 million and no strategic goal is being met than why are you rewarding the person who made it happen?

Offices cost a lot of money.  I'm not going to sit here and say that there aren't advantages to having people in the same room or area together, particularly when they are working towards a common goal.  Periodic in person meetings should almost certainly be a requirement whenever feasible.

Having people dispersed also puts an additional burden on managers and companies who for whatever reason do not do a good job of managing their people.  If you and your company do not resemble this description than there can be significant advantages to both sides in minimizing the amount of time spent in a traditional office setting as the study referenced in the BLOG mentioned at the start of this entry showed.

Image by Jonathan D. Blundell via Flickr
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