The concept of working from home has gradually spread, to the point where a large number of companies will at least consider implementing the concept. The concern with this approach is that employees will be distracted by at-home activities and not focus on their assigned tasks. This is not typically the case, though there are some issues that can detract from the arrangement. In this article, we note a number of pros and cons associated with the concept.
Several studies have uncovered benefits of work from home, with the following effects consistently noted:
- Greater job satisfaction. This is no surprise, since employees do not have to waste time commuting to the office, do not need to dress up in office attire, and can set their own schedules (within reason). And, greater job satisfaction means that turnover among those who work from home is reduced.
- Greater productivity. This is more of a surprise to those accustomed to working in the office, who assume that close interaction with their fellows is crucial to a high level of productivity. Instead, the inherent distractions of the office are eliminated when employees work from home, resulting in a significant boost in productivity. In addition, people who work from home tend to work longer hours. Also, people tend to continue working even when they are sick.
- Lower costs. The employer can save a significant amount on office space that it no longer needs. This cost savings is much higher than the cost of setting an employee up to work at home.
- Larger candidate pool. When employees can work remotely, a business can look much further afield for employees. It is possible to profitably employ people who live in entirely different time zones. In addition, this approach allows access to a new group of people who cannot leave the home – those involved with child care and elder care.
Nonetheless, there are situations in which working from home may not be the answer. Consider the following situations:
- Career advancement. There may be a concern among employees that they will not be considered for promotion if they work from home, on the grounds that they are not routinely meeting with the rest of their teams or their managers, and so cannot be properly evaluated. This can be a valid concern, depending on the processes used to target employees for advancement.
- Data security. An employee may have access to sensitive company information from their home computer, which can now be accessed by anyone who can enter that person’s home. Strong password protection that must be reset regularly is probably the best way to guard against this issue.
- Disaster recovery. What if an employee is storing information locally and loses the data, either from a system crash or by theft of the equipment? This scenario can be ameliorated by employing on-line data backup services.
- Equipment retrieval. The company may have installed expensive computer equipment at a person’s home. How difficult will it be to retrieve this equipment if the person’s employment is terminated?
- Low morale. If employee morale is exceedingly low, it is possible that those people working from home will spend a large part of their time looking for new jobs. In this situation, the work at home option may not be viable.
- Minimal training. If employees are not well-trained, it is difficult to obtain that training when there is no trainer present, which results in prolonged inefficiency and high error rates. This issue can be overcome by certifying the skill levels of employees before allowing them to work from home.
- Socialites. More extroverted employees enjoy the office environment and prefer to be with other people on a regular basis. Their turnover might increase if they were forced to work from home.
- Technical support. The computer systems used by employees must be operational for as close to 100% of the time as possible. This is a particular concern when the home computer must be constantly networked into the company’s computer system. For example, a travel agent who works from home cannot perform the job unless she can constantly access travel booking sites.
- Virus protection. It is possible that an employee could inadvertently download a virus through his home computer and then upload it to the company through the corporate network.
If there is resistance from management about allowing employees to work from home, conduct a pilot project that examines the output of a small group, and continue the test for a number of months. Then compare both the output and turnover rate of this group to the results of a control group that worked from the office during the same time period. If the results are notably better for the work-at-home group, this may present a sufficiently convincing case to trigger a larger rollout of the concept. Part of a pilot project can include the development of guidelines regarding how much equipment the company is to provide, who to call for equipment repair issues, the security of the equipment, personal use of the equipment, reimbursement for home office supplies, ergonomic considerations, and so forth.
One valid concern with working from home is the need to have occasional meetings. There are several ways to do so. One is to use an on-line video chat service, such as Skype. For in-person meetings, schedule certain employees to be in the office on specific days, and schedule meetings around those dates. Another option is to have everyone meet at the office on the same date, though this approach requires a larger investment in office space to accommodate the extra personnel.