My personal case for working from home (guest commentary)

Occasional telecommuting helps employees focus on deliverables, deal with life’s little challenges
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/24/2011

As I sit here in my big, comfortable living room chair typing on my laptop, I realize it’s really nice to work from home once in a while. Thankfully, I work for an enlightened employer and have an understanding boss. The type of work I do is also quite conducive to working from home — at least occasionally.

My wife works nights, mainly on weekends, so we don’t have to rely on daycare — something that’s really important because it’s very expensive and neither of our families live close by. Our schedule also allows us to make do with only one car.

The downside is we have no real support network to cover unforeseen circumstances or when my wife gets home from work at 9:30 a.m. once a week. On the days my wife needs the car, I’m faced with an expensive and grueling two-hour commute each way by bus using three separate transit systems.

Naturally, I try to deal with some of these issues by working from home when possible. While I don’t telecommute on a daily basis, it’s nice to have the option — I work from home about once every two weeks.

For me, working from home has several advantages:

• I can get an earlier start on my work day and work later too.

• I save on commuting costs and hassles.

• It allows my wife to use the car and run errands.

• I don’t have to arrange emergency daycare.

• There are no office distractions to deal with (although there are other distractions).

• I can concentrate on projects that require focus.

Working from home isn’t without its challenges. Some remote workers have to deal with feelings of isolation or “invisibility.” I don’t work from home everyday, nor would I want to, so I don’t have that issue.

There are other drawbacks too. I recently had to dial into a meeting via conference call. While I heard everyone clearly, my dog kept barking in the background. Towards the end of the meeting, just as my wife was walking in the door, my daughter had a meltdown, crying about how hungry she was. Thankfully, my colleagues were understanding.

Obviously, it’s not possible for everyone to work from home. My wife works in social services, so she has to be there to support her clients at all times. Because of this, it took her a while to really understand that for me working from home isn’t a day off.

Working from home helps employees deal with some of life’s little challenges. It reduces absenteeism when someone isn’t feeling 100 per cent but is well enough to do at least some work. It can also help with employee engagement and retention.

Personally, I usually work really efficiently at home, in spite of all the distractions. But if I feel I haven’t put in an honest day’s work by 5:30 p.m. or so, I’ll work later to make up for it.

Even though I have a team, my direct reports are pretty independent and they know how to contact me. I also encourage them to work from home when they need to.

While overtime doesn’t apply to me as a manager, employers need to be mindful of that issue when people work from home. They also need to be aware of occupational health and safety and liability concerns. Maintaining a professional image may also be an issue (for example, dogs barking in the background).

Managing employees remotely requires a certain mindset among managers. It requires them to focus on deliverables and be mindful of the needs of employees working off-site.

Telecommuting isn’t for everyone and some individuals may not be suitable. For this reason, employers need carefully developed policies and programs.

In most organizations, there are formal policies and procedures for those who work remotely on an ongoing basis. These are necessary and helpful but I’m actually more curious about what happens in situations like mine when someone works from home on an occasional basis.

Do you have formal policies around this? Are there approval processes or do you handle this more informally? Also, what are your thoughts on working from home? Is it a godsend or is it a drag on productivity?

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com. He is also author of the HR Policies & Practices blog on Canadian HR Reporter’s website. To comment on this or other columns visit www.hrreporter.com and look for blogs on the home page.

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