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HUMAN RESOURCES

Want Happier Employees? Send Them Home

If everyone wants to telecommute, what's stopping you?

Telecommuting is either the best thing since sliced bread or the cause of all problems. After all, it was telecommuting that Melissa Mayer banned at Yahoo in order to combat waste and phantom employees. Many managers feel that they if they can't actually see their employees, the employees aren't working.

But employees? Overwhelmingly, they want to work from home. A new survey conducted by Kona/SodaHead.com shows that 70 percent of workers want to work from home. That number jumps to an astronomical 81 percent for workers age 35 to 44.

What about those who work in the office while their coworkers work from their homes? They're jealous! 57 percent of employees in general are jealous, but that number jumps to 60 percent for parents and 75 percent for people making over $100,000 per year.

So, how can you implement a reasonable telecommuting policy in your office?

Consider if it's at all reasonable. If you're a widget manufacturer and everyone needs to be working on the widget assembly line, then, of course, telecommuting isn't reasonable. If, on the other hand, everyone works on separate projects on separate computers, telecommuting is more reasonable.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing.  Many people think they want to telecommute full-time, but then find that they miss the office. Additionally, there is a very real benefit to building personal relationships and running into someone in the hallway. A telecommuting policy that allows people to work from home one to three days per week, with a rule that everyone has to be in on Wednesdays, may give all the benefits of telecommuting without the risks.

It's not a substitute for childcare. All children need to be taken care of by someone other than your worker. Period. Now, I'm not saying that if the baby is taking a nap, the other parent can't run to the grocery store alone. But, there are employees who see saving on daycare costs as one of the perks of telecommuting. Unless your company is extremely flexible (and it might be!), that's a no-go. This may seem obvious to you, but it is not to your employees. It needs to be discussed--with both male and female employees.

Answer the question, how will we all communicate? Email? Phone? IM? Skype? Will we have a daily report? Whatever you decide, it needs to be spelled out. If you expect to be able to reach everyone, just as you did when their cube was next to yours, say so. If you expect that people will have more flexible hours, say so.

Remember that employment laws still apply. If those employees are non-exempt, hours still have to be tracked and all work must be paid for. This can get complex in a work-at-home situation if your employee just "quickly checks email" before going to bed. That's work. It's paid, even if he's wearing pajamas when it's done.

Recognize that all positions are not created equal. The janitor actually has to come into the office to clean it. The attorney who spends most of his time reviewing documents and contracts from vendors probably does not need to be in the office all the time. Telecommuting works well for some positions and some people and not so well for others. Acknowledge that from the beginning.

Be careful not to discriminate along gender lines. Don't let the women work at home so they can meet the school bus, but turn down the men because their wives should be taking care of that. Blatantly sexist? You bet. Would you say that directly? Probably not, but it may be stuck in the back of your head. Push it out and make the decision based on what is right for the business.

Don't be afraid to try it. If you try to implement a telecommuting policy and it fails, you can pull it back. But you may be pleasantly surprised.

Consider the savings. If people are telecommuting 50 percent of the time, they can share desk space. (Unless you require everyone to be in one day per week.) It's the easiest way to go green as well. And it's a big cost savings for employees--they don't have to pay for gas, wear and tear on their cars, or spiffy clothes for the days they work from home.

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Last updated: Aug 20, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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