One of the top perks many employees demand these days is that elusive “work-life balance.”
What that often means is a flexible schedule or the possibility of working from home or telecommuting.
Research on remote versus in-office workers has found those who work at home can be more productive. In 2013, a Stanford University study of call center employees found a 13% increase in the productivity of at-home workers.
But even if some employees want it, you still have to ask are they ready for it?
There are plenty of examples where the transition to working from home goes smoothly, but it’s not the perfect fit for every employee, says Mandy Gilbert, founder and chief executive of Creative Niche.
Managers need to have a keen sense of how their employees work and interact before they make the decision.
I faced this dilemma a few years back. Two valued team members announced they were moving out of state. Both asked if they’d be permitted to do their jobs remotely. Because their work involved writing and editing, it was a reasonable request.
But before I granted their request, I did some thinking. Could they truly handle the job while out of the office entirely? How well did they work independently? Did they get work done on time, requiring little hand-holding?
In this situation, the answers to those questions were resoundingly positive.
But that’s not always the case. Before you grant the privilege, consider if by trying to keep your employee happy, you’re making a stupid move.
Prior to granting out-of-office status, Gilbert suggests asking these 5 questions:
1) Does Your Employee Have The Self-Discipline?
Is your employee a go-getter and goal-setter? Do they self-start, or tend to procrastinate?
Observing how employees work while in the office gives you an idea of how they’ll operate when they’re out of your line of sight.
There’s no question that employees need to be self-motivated to pull it off. Without set times to show up at work, some might find it tempting to start work late or cave to distractions.
Figure out if your employee responds well to structured, organized workdays to keep them from distractions.
Easily swayed employees might not know how to distance themselves from “home life” enough to get them into work-mode every day.
2) How Will It Affect The Employee’s Time Off The Job?
Working from home can mean that, since you’re always technically at work, you end up feeling guilty when you’re not working.
Some employees take this too far and start to feel like they never have time to turn off and unplug.
This results in stressed-out employees who start resenting work and never feel personally fulfilled at home.
That can kill their performance and job satisfaction.
It’s important to sense if your employee who wants to work from home is a natural idea-maker, someone with initiative who sets his own goals.
Employees who feed off others’ ideas and work ethics are likely better off in the office, at least a majority of the time.
3) Can The Employee Handle Working In Isolation?
For employees who are naturally social and work best when grouped with others, this could be the greatest challenge, Gilbert says.
When employees miss out on chances for co-worker interaction and relationship-building, it can result in a weaker team dynamic.
If you grant work-from-home privileges to such an employee, it’s a good idea to encourage him or her to call into group sessions as often as possible, or at least report to the office once a week.
4) Will Their Remote Work Adversely Affect Your Team Dynamic?
Many managers start to micromanage their employees who work from home. This can lead to resentment among in-house team members, who think you’re giving the out-of-office employee too much attention.
Spending valuable time worrying if your group can work together with employees out of the office is a sure-fire way to erode your team mojo (not to mention your sanity).
For work-from-home arrangements to work at all, you’ve got to have a high level of trust in your employee. If the employee is new or is taking on more responsibilities or different roles, it may be best to keep them in the office until you both feel more comfortable.
5) Will You Be Able To Keep Work-From-Home Employees Accountable?
You don’t want to be one of those managers who sneakily sends emails to see how long it takes to get a reply or phone them round the clock to see whether they answer.
Face it – you likely will have to be more actively involved when staff is working remotely. This could mean extra efforts to spell out expectations and deadlines more than you previously did.
Point out the hours when you need to readily reach them – and do check in to see that they honor that request, Gilbert suggests.
This is necessary to emphasize that while you trust the employee, you don’t have quick access to them outside your office door anymore. So increasing communication just makes sense.
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Ultimately, managers should remember that the comfort level of work-from-home arrangements has to go both ways. Both you and the employee have to agree to some ground rules beforehand, or projects that would have been a breeze when everyone was in the office could prove more difficult than you thought.
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