If you have been in the workplace for a few decades, you may remember that the idea of telecommuting began to appear in the late 90’s as internet access from home began to become more common. Telecommuting was often poorly received, as it carried the onus of being a “trick” to avoid working a full eight hours. Then, with the arrival of residential broadband access a decade or so ago, successfully conducting a large majority of your work tasks in real-time, from home, became very realistic for a large swath of office workers. And now, months into a pandemic, many of us are still telecommuting. So, then why do we still worry about work from home policies?
Here are some of the concerns that business owners have when they contemplate creating a permanent work from home policy. Do you relate to any of these?
Decrease in Productivity
A common concern is that when at home, where there may be many domestic or entertainment distractions, workers will be unable to settle in and focus on their work. Kids, pets, laundry, Netflix, etc. may represent a strong magnetic pull from the work at hand. This is especially true as some schools are opting for online learning to begin the new year, we find ourselves inclined to check the news or social media more often than ever before, and our daily life is generally far different than it was six months ago.
Many managers fear that without onsite management ensuring that work is getting done, employees will slack off. Accepting or not accepting telecommuting for this reason represents the basic conflicting managerial attitudes in the Theory Y vs. Theory X developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1950s and 60s. Without going into detail, it hinges on whether a manager feels employees can be sufficiently self-motivated to succeed or must rely on external rewards and penalties to successfully perform their jobs.
Loss of Collaboration
There is also a concern that when people work alone, they miss the creative spark that comes from the unplanned and spontaneous discussion that comes about informally from mingling in the same space. In 2013, the new CEO Marissa Mayer ended most work from home policies because she believed Yahoo needed the collaborative approach that she felt came only from sharing a common physical space. Conversely, in response to the pandemic and the ability of its employees to work from home, Twitter is now allowing its employees to telecommute indefinitely.
Operating an organization partially with off-site employees takes careful planning. For one thing, your IT infrastructure has to be able to accommodate the added requirements of an entirely digital office space. It also means you should work with your IT provider to develop protocols to maintain off-site devices as well and support a uniform set of collaboration tools to ensure productivity is not lost because of technical problems or cumbersome work tools.
In short, some of these concerns are valid, but they can generally be overcome, at least partially, when management is committed to developing a thoughtfully-designed set of policies that will dovetail with the company’s strategic goals. Further, developing a work from home policy can reap a number of benefits, which was the subject of one of our prior blogs.