Working from home is all the rage. You see employers offer it as a perk left and right, but I’ve been a skeptic ever since the trend reared its head.
First, I need to say that I do have remote workers. One of the sayings we have at my company (and a value I instill within my employees) is “all about the people.” And it’s actually because I’m so people-centric that I struggle with allowing the bulk of our team to work from home. I understand that life happens. Distractions and interruptions happen, whether they’re out of our control or not. I fear that it’s those types of distractions that eventually exacerbate, decrease productivity, interfere with communication among teams, and creates an overall environment lacking in accountability. This, in turn, impacts our bottom line.
That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
Before anyone jumps down my throat, just know that this fear isn’t unfounded. Take tech giant IBM. For a long time, about 40% of its 400,000 employees worldwide worked remotely. This was a huge perk for IBM’s employees, too, so the decision to roll back the policy (with a few exceptions) sparked a lot internal backlash. But, an IBM spokesperson made it clear that, while this change will undoubtedly piss off some people, the decision boils down to IBM’s overall strategy: adopting the best work method for the work being done.
And I completely agree with that. Just because team members might complain about a lack of flexibility doesn’t mean that employers should just roll over and hop on the bandwagon. Running a company is about establishing a workflow that makes sense for every moving part within it. And while it’s true that up to 90% of the US workforce says they’d like to work from home at least part-time, that doesn’t mean they should.
The option to work from home should be permitted on a per-person or per-role basis—not a company-wide policy for every worker. When employers globalize a policy like that, they assume that everyone works the same way—that everyone is disciplined and holds themselves accountable for their work. We all know that’s not the case.
Some people work more efficiently with structure, for example. How much structure can you have when you’re lying in bed all day? Not much! Others feel that simply being in the presence of their coworkers inadvertently holds them accountable. So when you’re working from home, lying in bed, and no one’s there except the dog… who’s going to be your support system?
Which leads me to my next point: sticking with your team. I don’t care how much communication software exists today, in-person communication among teams is important. Meetings are more productive when you can see that Jane isn’t online shopping. Plus, for me, passive face time is critical for raises and promotions. It pays off when your employer can see your dedication and see the hard work you put in (instead of seeing some boxes checked on the latest project management tool).
Now, I do want to say that I’m cool with some people in certain positions working from home as long as there’s a sufficient way to track progress and productivity and tools for constant communication such as video conferencing. Other roles, such as hourly ones, I’m less cool with, and I may never be. It’s not like I don’t trust my team members—it’s just that there’s too much at stake, and there’s too much room for impromptu day trips and 3-hour errand runs. No one’s around to see that you’ve stepped out for a few hours, and it’s easy to respond to emails or chats when we’re on the go. We’re all so connected to our devices that it makes little white lies (or big ones) way too easy. Don’t forget the legal implications for exempt vs non-exempt employees who by definition require more hands-on direction.
Again, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
Stop drinking the Kool-Aid. It’s dangerous to assume that just because your team wants something it automatically means they should get it. It’s your responsibility to know your team, their roles, and the ways in which they perform their best. When you don’t take the time to invest in learning about them, you’re not helping them or the company.
Wake up. Don’t be the reason your bottom line takes a hit.