As a rising star in her department, Jennifer was eager and effective in her work. She went from intern to coordinator in just a matter of months. With this new position and trust from her co-workers and managers, Jennifer got the opportunity to work from home a couple of days a week. After telling all her friends and setting everything up, she thought she had everything she needed to begin this new step. Less than 6 months later, Jennifer found herself sitting across the desk of her boss in a critical performance meeting wondering where she had gone wrong.
So much has been written about the benefits of working from home that few stop to realize that it’s not a decision to take lightly.
In Jennifer’s case, she was not only not ready to work from home but not trained to. Her youth and inexperience made her think working from home was similar to managing her college workload just a few years prior. Her boss was not impressed with her hopping “on and offline” to do various errands and chores and her team found that often when they’d reach out she wasn’t there to give an answer, frustrating those who reported into her department.
Things were no peachier from Jennifer’s side.
She felt disconnected from the team, often going several days without contact with her supervisor. At first, she logged on faithfully every day, posting fun GIFs to the intranet and tagging colleagues in assignments where she wanted their input. However, when Jennifer didn’t immediately get feedback because her colleagues were slammed with in-office work, she became disengaged and stopped making sure to connect every day.
Her dogs were a constant source of frustration during conference calls with the team and she missed having multiple screens on which to work. When an opportunity to take a Krav Maga class at her gym at 2:30 popped up, she jumped at it, not even thinking to ask her boss or colleagues since it was her day off.
Are there clues her supervisor missed?
Could Jennifer’s job (which she was eventually fired from and WFH suspended by the company) have been saved?
When implementing a virtual or work from home policy, make sure it’s a written, always accessible document that everyone signs. Cover everything from how quickly the person is expected to respond to clients, to what to do in the case of an unscheduled appointment.
Before assigning a work from home position, make sure the person has the ability to actually work from home.
In today’s Instagram world, few remember that not everyone’s home situation is the same. There may not be a private office, a quiet extra room or accessible high-speed internet. Talk openly with your employees about these concerns before asking them to work from home.
Walk your employee through situations that they will likely encounter during work from home days.
It’s 3 pm and all the kids are walking through the door at the same time as your big presentation, what do you do? The cable company calls and says they need to shut off your cable for the day, but you have a large report that needs to be filed by noon.
What do you do?
Your hairdresser can fit you in but only Tuesdays at 2 pm, what do you do? You’re slammed and need to train your new hire. Do you come in on your WFH day if asked?
All these situations (and more!) should be addressed broadly in your policy and specifically in a face to face meeting.
The best-laid plans amirite? Working from home is not for everyone, every time. Proceed with caution if:
Training your people for WFH is not impossible but rolling it out overnight can be. If at all possible, roll out WFH in small doses to see how the team reacts and what adjustments might need to be made.
During this time, ask them to get their home offices set up and offer allowances or assistance doing so. Request that each person bring in a picture of their home office space so you can visualize one another’s workspace.
If you already have emails or slack messages falling through the cracks, you are NOT ready for WFH yet. If your intranet is rarely or ever used, start that change management process before you implement a work from home policy.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Working from home can be successful if you create best practices around it. Your employees will have more workflex options, you will (eventually) save money on expensive office space, and have an additional benefit with which to recruit.
Here are some best practices that set WFH winners apart from Jennifer’s poor team:
Have a policy in place. A good work from home policy will cover everything from clocking in and out, to expectations and deliverable loads. A great policy will also take into account that some jobs simply don’t need as much face time or oversight as others.
At Red Branch Media, we have folks who work exclusively remotely and simply send in their deliverables on schedule, and we have those who get 1–2 days per week unless we’re training new employees.
Make sure to outline these differences in the policy to save yourselves a lot of questions later.
Stay in contact. We have thrice weekly stand-up calls to connect those of us in the office to those working from home. We have an in-person meeting weekly that is mandatory, so we can connect as people. Our reports and intranet help us see how our clients are doing and keep each other accountable.
You see the thread running through all these ideas.
It’s connection to one another.
That’s the most important best practice of all!
Watch your language. One of the warning bells that Jennifer and her supervisor should have caught was when she referred to a WFH day as her “day off”. I strongly urge those considering WFH in their workplace to specifically call out language like this. Even “out of office” has a connotation of not working.
Work from home, accountability days, GTD days, whatever you want to call them, encourage everyone to adopt language that makes working from home days even MORE productive than those when they are working from the office.
WFH may be more prevalent now than ever, but it’s still a pretty powerful benefit. That makes working from home a privilege, not a right. If someone is abusing their work from home privilege, it should be clear that it will be removed.
If you do total compensation in your work, add the WFH benefit into that calculation, as it’s immensely valuable to potential employees and can be used as a recruitment tool.
The reason I’ve written the word policy here so many times is because a comprehensive work from home policy (I did it again!) is like the guardrails for your employees, especially those who are working from home for the first time. It will do the “warning” for you.
Of course, you know your employees best, and these are just some warning bells that alert you to the possibility that WFH may be an issue. Any of these could be due to issues aside from WFH and may signal that you need to pay close attention to your employee.
Originally published on the Digital HR Tech blog.
Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer, writer and business builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. Founder and CEO of Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and outsourcing and thought leadership to HR and Recruiting Technology and Services organizations internationally, Hogan is a consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques. She has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies and been a thought leader in the global recruitment and talent space. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and The Red Branch Media Blog.
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