If you want to get a good debate going and are tired of discussing politics, try bringing up the topic of working from home. Most employees and most employers feel strongly about it, one way or another.
As a business owner of an IT Managed Services firm, I am addressing this topic on a regular basis, both from the perspective of our clients who want to securely allow their employees to access their organization’s applications and data from a home or remote environment, and also from the perspective of being an employer myself.
At this point I feel as if I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen employers lose talented people due to inflexibility, and I’ve seen employees abuse their employers’ good faith efforts to accommodate a flexible lifestyle. I’ve experienced great outcomes, and I’ve also seen the concept fail miserably.
So when asked if I am a fan of “working from home,” my response is a resounding, “It depends.”
First of all, there is a good reason why Bank of New York Mellon Corp, IBM, Yahoo, Aetna and Best Buy originally allowed “working from home” and then reversed their position. Without a very strong set of enforced policies and cultural norms, “working from home” can easily turn into “days off but checking email regularly,” which is NOT even close to the concept of working and producing while sitting in a location other than the organization’s office.
For companies to grow and thrive in an ever-increasing competitive landscape, employees need to be driving forward progress on a consistent basis. That kind of real progress requires actively debating, discussing, disagreeing, and resolving. It requires trust among employees. It requires a passionate commitment to the firm’s collective goals.
Working remotely can be the enemy of this type of environment. When someone is working away from their “work tribe,” there are many nuances, opinions, and reactions that are never seen. There is a general wearing down of the organization’s culture and over-arching goals that gives way to the ease of doing transactional work.
This wearing down of the essence of the culture is why we feel strongly at Entara that WFH requires video. We allow WFH on an occasional basis, but if you are WFH, you must be video-equipped, and your participation in meetings needs to be video-based. We have found that this one requirement lends itself to people being focused on the call itself, without the temptation to get a few emails done while someone else is talking. It also supports non-verbal, yet all important, communication. This non-verbal communication is sometimes even more important than the words spoken: It allows other colleagues to read how the remote worker is impacted by an idea and vice versa.
Besides video, it’s a given that anyone working from home needs to work in a dedicated, quiet space with a door, has the capability to securely access our network via VPN, keeps their calendar up-to-date and is logged into Skype for Business so colleagues can see their availability and message as needed. Ensuring that remote workers have full access to applications and data is essential to not thwart productivity. However, the security challenges presented with remote workers are vast. It would be another whole post to cover the specific details that need to be addressed when working remotely, but suffice it to say that it’s critical to get right.
Finally, we do not allow WFH to be the norm on an ongoing basis. WFH should be an option for a maximum of 1-2 days / week. That said, we realize that there will always be exceptions to the rule. In the last year, we’ve allowed two employees to work remotely full-time – one temporarily moved to Hawaii for the school year while his wife worked as a teacher on a one-year contract and the other moved to the west coast to get married. Both of these individuals had shown over and over again their dedication to their jobs at Entara and we knew our team was stronger with them continuing to work with us, albeit remotely.
We still believe that people need people. There is no substitute for shaking someone’s hand, looking someone in the eye, or going out to lunch as a team. But we also realize there is benefit to allowing WFH – it limits office distractions, employees are able to work on solo projects more efficiently, employees are happier, saving time and money on commuting and able to spend more time with loved ones and it offers the ability to hire/retain the right people even if they are not local. In 2019, we were looking to hire a new member of our Leadership team and found the perfect candidate….but he lived in Michigan and was not interested in relocating. So we decided to make accommodations because we knew he was the right person. This arrangement has worked well – he flies in a few days a week and works from his home office the remaining days.
The bottom line is that for WFH to be mutually beneficial for all involved, you need a combination of the right mindset and motivation, clear expectations, strong company core values and processes to support a productive remote working environment.
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