The coronavirus pandemic is now shining a light on the work from home concept. Organizations large and small are sending their people home, either as a preventative measure, or while they disinfect their buildings. Working from home, once seen as a concession or as a luxury, is now coming to the fore as a leap forward. Why? For the very same reason it has been largely ignored over the past decade: trust.
For much of the past decade, the work from home model has relied on a laptop computer and and email connection. This meant that knowledge workers could do much of their work from their own kitchen table or home office, checking in on occasion, but working largely in isolation. This has not been its most greatly appealing feature. And one of the reasons for this is trust. Managers will ask, how can I trust that my employees are actually working and not watching TV? But this attitude is perfectly human, but perfectly wrong.
It’s a human thing to do because people still bank a great deal on face-time. It is assumed that if people are at work, they are actually working. Although most of us know that is not entirely true. Entire TV series, like The Office, reflect the realities of office life. A great deal of time is spent not working, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes du to the need to socialize, and sometimes due to the hard fact that the human brain and body cannot work at full production for hours on end. We zone in and out based on energy levels, sleep, hunger and the natural rhythms of the human body.
Eve the most diligent and dedicated professional, pounding out material hour after hour on the keyboard will end up with substandard work sooner or later if they don’t take a break.
Smoke breaks, coffee runs, even meetings and training days are great opportunities for people to take a vacation from work while at work, and the addictive call of social media is always just a flick away, whether hidden temporarily on a browser tab, or on an employee’s phone. No one can truly prove they have put in 8 full hours of work in an 8 hour day. It just isn’t possible.
But still, the idea of someone working from home in their jammies, just doesn’t seem like real work. So here are five reasons why managers should relax and let at least some of their people work from home as part of ongoing management and future proofing your company.
- Not trusting your employees is not healthy. Leaders and managers take all types of courses and consume all kinds of books dealing with leadership and team management. To then turn around and dismiss the work from home model as being untrustworthy because people might not actually be working reveals a mistrust that will permeate an entire team. If our manager doesn’t trust people to work from home responsibly, what else might this manager have problems with? Leadership and trust go hand in hand. People need to trust their leaders and leaders need to trust their people. When this doesn’t happen, and things revert to command-and-control, the good people leave. The old expression has never been more true. People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers. In this age of increased career mobility, where having three or more employers on your résumé per decade is no longer a bad thing – but actually a good one – it is no longer a issue or daring an employee to quit. It’s about daring them to stay.
- Trusting your employees is very heathy. Whether it’s a work from home thing or something else, like delegating work, or giving people free reign to run their projects their way, a clear demonstration of trust is a powerful way to build loyalty and productivity. Most people take pride in their work. They look to their managers for opportunities to grow and develop. They want to show what they can do. Most people, when given the chance to fly free, will return to the corporate perch because that’s where the freedom comes from. Demonstrating trust in an employee is like the adrenaline for a project. Establishing a culture of trust again reverberates through the entire organization. It’s not just for the work from home people.
- So what if a work-from-home employee does watch some TV? Or goes and takes the dog for a midday walk? Or stops by the store to go pick something up? That’s part of life, and it’s the same type of break that employees do at their workplace already. Knowledge workers are paid for the application of their knowledge to tasks and projects. They research, they write, they plan, and they do. And unless the project at hand is a crisis event that must be resolved in an hour, a responsibly measured break within the workday actually supports high productivity by focusing it into the hours when a person’s mind and body are best attuned to it. When it comes to knowledge worker, metrics of work is not the hours spent sitting at a desk, the way sweatshop workers are assessed to this day. The metrics must revolve around quality, accuracy, promptness and relevance and these are better handled on a responsibly managed flexible schedule.
- Access. So, what about the meetings? The spontaneous interactions in the hallway? The office chats and feedback? These things are fundamental to team management and office life. But now they are just as available, even remotely, through applications like Slack, Zoom, Skype Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. Video conferencing is no longer just for formally scheduled boardroom meetings. They are available whenever and however – the perfect visual version of the intercom.
- Finally, the people who are able to work from home effectively are definitely the ones you want to keep on your team. They are motivated. They know how to get things done. They know how to manage their time and their technology. And in many cases, thanks to the fact there is no commute, they are able to deliver more than a day’s worth of work per day even with a lunchtime walk with the dog included. When this is rewarded with trust, you stand to retain the best of your disciplined and motivated employees simply by letting them work where and how it fits their life better.
Of course, not all employees are suite for work from home. Many like to interact with their colleagues and may find work from home to be too isolated and quiet. OK, so those people are best staying at the office. During crisis times such as the current pandemic, they will need some training on how to do it effectively.
Many managers fear that one bad apple who will sleep through the day and abuse the trust and privilege that work from home offers. Yes, those people exist, but the reality is they exist in the office as well. But they know how to hide it. It becomes a strategic management choice as to whether to forfeit the entire remote work operation and its benefits on account of such individuals.
Finally, there is the comfort level among managers and team leaders. Many people grew up professionally during a time when remote work did not exist as a viable option. So it does not seem right, or feasible that people can get work done from home. It is difficult to shake off those preconceptions. Yet when one looks at what knowledge workers actually do, their time is often spent between keyboard work, meetings and email, all of which can now be done – including the communications part from anywhere. Private, focused time is easier to get when you are in the privacy of your own home, yet direct, fluid conversation is also available in video and chat form whenever its needed.
It’s not about replicating the office experience – it’s about redefining what work is. What productivity is. Frankly professional work is about quality and output, not time served. Even if you bill hourly, your capacity for maximizing productivity and profitability comes from a balanced approach to work and life. Even those professionals who are able to bill out at hundreds of dollars an hour know that if the quality isn’t there, sooner or later the customer is going to question that bill.
Here are a couple more things to think about. According to a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder nearly 80 percent of American workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Many people in the workforce have little backing them up. Not all of these workers are knowledge workers, of course. Many belong to the service industry or manufacturing, or places where interaction with customers in a central place is essential. But for those we call knowledge workers, who can do their work equally well from anywhere, the opportunity to work from home even some of the time provides an economic benefit in the best of times, and may be a life saver on days where absence would be the only alternative. Snow days or teachers strikes for parents, or days when you are sick, even with normal colds or flu.
But in addition, it must be noted that people of all ages are becoming aware that work, as essential as it might be to life, is a different beast than it was 20 or more years ago. Professionals are growing used to life online – many have grown up with it, others have grown used to it. But the ability for work to be done anywhere at any time is far more attainable than at any other time in history, and it’s an attractive part of the entire employment decision.
As such, the decision to not only encourage working from home, but to develop it as a skill can be seen as a highly proactive and timely investment in the future of any organization. An idea whose time has truly come.
This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. or search for it on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html