The perk that many, many people want? The ability to work from home-either part time or full time. In fact, so many people want this that a lot of companies have implemented telecommuting policies. For those of us who love working from home, this is fantastic. No commute. We're home when UPS brings our packages. When the washing machine starts pouring water out the door and through the ceiling (I speak from experience), we don't have to take a day off to wait for the technician to come.
But, what has happened at the office? Not everyone loves working from home, and a culture that ends up encouraging telecommuting can often make the people who prefer to work in the office unhappy. The New York Times reports on new research by Professor Rockmann and Michael G. Pratt, a management professor at Boston College that talks about this dark side of telecommuting. They write:
In a study of a Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley that freely allowed off-site work, the researchers found that the employees who chose to continue working in the office ended up feeling lonely and disconnected. Many of these people came into work because they desired social interaction, and yet they found themselves deprived of the convivial lunches, spontaneous hallway interactions and impromptu office conversations that can be so energizing. "The office essentially became this isolated wasteland," Professor Rockmann said in an interview.
As more people felt pressure to telecommute, more people did, making the feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness intensify for the people who wanted to be in the office. Just as it can be difficult for an introvert to work with a whole bunch of other people around, it can be difficult for an extrovert to work at home.
Additionally, even introverts who would love to work from home may not be able to. Maybe there isn't a good workspace. Maybe their spouses stay at home with the kids and so the house isn't exactly quiet. Maybe they just like having separate environments for home and office. It's not the perfect solution for all people.
Can you work around this situation? Can you create an environment that is friendly to both office lovers and telecommuters? Here are some ideas.
Only allow part-time telecommuting.
One of the things that telecommuting friendly companies love is that they don't have to provide as much office space-it's cheaper! But, if you allow people to work from home a few days a week with the requirement that they be in the office on other days, you can get the best of both worlds. Your extroverts aren't alone. Your introverts get a break. And everyone can be home for repair personnel.
Reduce your physical space.
Companies do this as a cost saving solution anyway, but if you put your office staff closer together, there can be interactions among the people in the office, even if they are in separate departments.
Pick one or the other.
There's nothing wrong with saying, "we're a telecommuting-friendly company" or "we believe in working together in an office environment." Of course, in the latter situation you should still allow flexibility where needed, but the culture can be one where office work is the norm.
Don't pressure either way.
Just as there are companies where employees feel pressure to work from home, there are companies where employees feel pressure to work in the office. Make it clear that what you are interested in are performance and results.
Whatever you decide, look out for all your employees, and be clear when you hire, what your expectations are.