For many years, the major players in the tech market have been developing tools that enable us to communicate instantly across what were formerly geographical barriers. In parallel, cities have fallen victim to urban sprawl, short-term infrastructure planning, and unsafe and unreliable public transportation. All of these factors, partnered with the acceptance of the enterprise to allow employees to work from home offices, is reported to have returned increased productivity and lower operational costs. This would seem to mean a win-win for the employee/employer relationship and indeed that might be the case. However, like everything in business, there are some important considerations before sending employees off to work from their homes. First, you need a good remote work strategy.
Let’s think about the factors that would motivate an organization to allow employees to work from home. My experience is that most major changes incorporated within an enterprise environment are fiscally motivated, and this shift is no different. For the past 30 years, the cost of corporate office space has, for the most part, been a cash-cow for commercial real estate. It has also been a major overhead expense. If the reduction of overhead expenses has become part of the organizational strategic plan, this is a good and very obvious change to consider.
What about the less obvious? Organizations that enable their employees to work from home offices have an increased number of potential employees that they can draw from. The geographical constraint is at least partially lifted. This comes into play not only for less desirable locations but also for more desirable locations that are priced out of the market for the average wage earner. The market opens up and access to new hires is no longer constrained by geographical location.
What organizational supports need to be in place?
If you are considering moving employees to home offices, there are some important things to consider in advance.
The home office should be considered the employee’s permanent work arrangement. There is an investment to be made and the home office should not be considered as a casual work arrangement for those days when it is most convenient to work at home. Nor should it be considered as a location just for those extra hours put in after normal office hours. From an enterprise perspective, the investment made should be in consideration of the savings realized with not having to support bricks and mortar and should meet the projections of a cost-benefit analysis.
Consider implementing an office employee agreement that states what the enterprise will bring to the table, and what the organization expects from the employee. Remember that not all employees are suited to work from a home office. How will that employee be supervised? Will a home visit be required first in order to ensure that their location is suitable for a home office? Is the employee allowed to move to a different city and still remain employed? Consider what the organizational requirements are for a home office. If you do not state the requirements, it would not pass the best business practice smoke test if you want to turn down someone’s request.
What costs should the enterprise absorb?
Thought has to be given as to what costs the organization will cover. I’ve seen some very modest requests for reimbursement, and I’ve seen requests for the organization to cover a complete home renovation. Prior to rolling out the move to the home office, thought has to be made and documentation produced that carefully outlines what costs will be covered, and what costs will not be covered. Think about office equipment. A desk is rather necessary, but there is a very wide range of office desks. Consider a one-time reimbursement up to a certain amount. That way, if the employee wants to invest in something more expensive, or something that best aligns with their décor, they have the flexibility to do so.
Electronic storage can be handled one of two ways. You could enforce the use of a network drive. This protects the enterprise somewhat with regard to intellectual capital. If documents are stored on a common drive, they can be backed up and preserved. More often than not, I see no enforcement of electronic storage and the quality of the documentation degrades rapidly with the passing of time.
What about connectivity? Remember that this will not be same from location to location. The available service providers must be able to provide adequate coverage. This one is a bit tough because there can be substantial savings to the enterprise if a contract can be negotiated with one service provider. Many employees will want to bolt the coverage onto their existing agreement in order that they can leverage cost savings through multiple services from one carrier. Know in advance which strategy your organization will support.
What happens when the technology doesn’t work? This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves when I deal with organizations whose employees all remote from home offices. When something goes wrong, there is not adequate IT support and their downtime greatly exceeds that of employees who work onsite. Maybe it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. I do know that it needs to be done better.
Believe it or not, having employees supply their own computer equipment seems to end in higher costs. Think about all of the different operating systems and add-in packages that your organization will now have to support. Consider supplying the hardware and locking it down to prevent malicious downloads and conflicting software. Remember that putting employees into home offices does not alleviate the enterprise from the responsibility of privacy and security. It is more challenging, but it certainly does not go away.
Remote work strategy: Parting shots
Working from home is a discipline in and of itself. Some people excel at productivity when we remove long commutes, interruptions, and distractions. Their work-life balance improves as does their quality of life. Organizationally, the cost savings of lease agreements alone can make a pretty compelling argument. That said, working from a home office is not for everyone. Stating upfront what costs the organization will cover and the expectations of the organization will help to promote a successful implementation of this change. This is why you need a good remote work strategy first. As with most things in life, the more time spent planning at the start will result in less money spent making changes and repairing damage at the end.
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