You might be sick of reading about Yahoo and the work from home reversal. Or Richard Branson telling us all that working remotely is the way of the future. I, for one, am really enjoying the discussions.
I feel like there are some definition challenges here. Working from home and telecommuting, because you work at a distance, are two different things.
I believe that telecommuting has a strong future. Top talent isn’t always located right where we need it. And these are people, not resources. You may be able to order parts from another country, but human effort is not the same. An internet connection can unite your business need with talent located anywhere. I see this as something HR can support. We can be there to guide managers when they enter a telecommuting relationship. Working through the challenges an arrangement like this brings is the best way to ensure it is successful.
On the other hand, working from home seems to be a life choice and not a matter of sourcing talent. It’s about wanting to work somewhere that is comfortable and close. Making this choice, as a member of a team, can have some implications that should be appreciated. Is it that the person does not want to interact with the team? Do they hate their boss? Is your office a place they don’t want to be? These are all valid concerns. Avoidance is not a reason to work from home. But if a person is more effective and efficient at home, I think we would agree that it’s a good thing. The only detractor is if it takes away from the team or business results.
I think the biggest challenge in both situations is supervision. Managers get anxious that people will underperform, or more accurately underwork, when they can’t see them. If we can all get our heads around managing by performance, in it’s truest form; working remotely can be a success. All members of the team have to be committed to the work from home model though. If it is seen as a perk or a punishment, the team may function at a decreased level. Telecommuting, likewise, has to be embraced by the team. As HR professionals, we can teach our organizations how to make remote work situations impactful. We can introduce performance based management tools and provide support.
Of course, this doesn’t address the millions of people employed outside the knowledge workplace. The workplace progressions in those fields will have to wait for another blog post!