I have always been a firm believer in having everything related to my business in one place--the people, the products, the packaging...it facilitates teamwork, provides inspiration, and encourages getting tasks done in a timely and clear manner. I have never liked outside reps, third party providers, or remote workers. However, in the last few years, a few instances have arisen which made me give a few staff members the possibility to work remotely. In so doing, I discovered what worked and what didn't. Here are my ground rules that have to be met to make working from home a success.
1. You can't work from home if you are expected to be a caregiver for any part of the working hours. After I had a baby two years ago, I began working from home part of the time. Even though I was able to get some tasks done while my infant son was sleeping, the blocks of work time were an hour at best, and I found out the hard way how much starting and stopping limited my productivity. If, as the owner of the company who feels both professionally and morally obligated to give a 100%, I could not do better, I know for sure an employee won't be able to. Now, if I need to work from home, I do it only at night when my son has gone to sleep for the rest of the evening. It allows me to concentrate better, and increase my output.
2. Your remote work space must be an enclosed room, with a door you can close. When one of my top-level executives asked to work from home one day a week to get done her duties that required quiet (something hard to come by in our open office space), I was open to the idea. After one month, she canceled the day out of the office on her own, because she found that working on a computer in a corner of her living room left her open to constant interruptions from her babysitter and kids. When she moved to a new house that afforded her a real office where she could shut out the outside world, we tried it again, and the remote day became highly productive, mitigating her now even longer commuter and her need for focus to complete certain tasks accurately and efficiently.
3. Your desire to work from home must be balanced by an added benefit to my company. One of my best salespeople had a rough time a few years ago when a family member fell ill and required someone to be present at all times during the recovery process. While he did his best to stay on top of his responsibilities, it was clear that balancing the care for his loved one with his regular work hours was causing him enormous stress. When he requested to work remotely during normal business hours from the affected family member's house, I refused, knowing that he would still be torn by his commitments. Instead, I suggested he could work alternate hours from his own house on weekends when other family members could care for his parent. My employee was relieved, and my company got the added benefit of having someone available to take orders seven days a week in high season.
4. Your working from home must be treated as a sacrifice by my company, not a perk you are entitled to. One of my graphic designers decided to return to her native country this year because she wanted to raise her child close to her extended family, however she wanted to remain with the company. Allowing her to do so would limit some of the tasks she could perform, because certain work material could not be accessed outside the office. On the other hand, her contributions to the design team and the cohesiveness in graphics department that had developed since her employment made us want to give it a try. She viewed our possible acceptance of remote work for her as a lucky chance to keep doing work she loved while getting her child what he needed--and because she understood that her move would be a burden to the company, she offered to take on extra responsibilities to offset the areas in which she could no longer perform and repay us for our willingness to let her try to work from afar. We both came out better for it.
Working off-site can be useful, if the reasons for doing so, the motivation to deliver, and the conditions are right.