S. Lorrie Ray, Director, Membership Development
The answer to both questions is the ever reliable, “It depends.”
Working at home does not work when tasks are not or cannot be performed in an efficient and effective manner. It seems Yahoo was concerned that employees were either not communicating well or were not performing the quality of work that needed to be done when they were working at home. Why allow work from home at all? It can create tremendous efficiencies for employers and employees. Research has shown that allowing telecommuting can increase productivity significantly – when it’s done properly. For it to go well there must be a high level of trust that the work is being done, and being done at the level necessary to meet the needs of the organization. Supervisors and managers need to know what work is being done, when it’s going well and when it’s not, and what to do about it.
Know what work is being done: When managers can see, hear, feel, touch, or taste exactly what is being accomplished by employees, they can determine if it meets the needs of the workplace. Staying informed about the tasks being performed and making sure projects are progressing on schedule and that they are completed on time, with the necessary input from other employees, is key to successful telecommuting. One manager who is a strong champion of telecommuting has weekly meetings with her team to find out where they are, what has been done, and what needs to be completed.
Know when it’s going well and when it’s not: Managers must pay careful attention to when working at home is truly working for the employee. There are times in an employee’s personal life that telecommuting is not really good for the employee or the employer. A high level of trust and respect between the manager and the employee is critical so that candid conversations can take place about whether working at home is really the best option at particular moments in time. A supervisor noticing that his employee was not completing the work as usual spoke to the employee and learned that her mother-in-law was staying in her home, recuperating from an illness. The employee had difficulty insisting that she do her work when she was needed to care for her mother-in-law. He suggested that the employee work in the office for the time being. The employee was relieved, and the work was completed.
Know what to do: Having a clear understanding of the components of any task, what is needed to accomplish it, and the types of interactions that occur during the task is key. If a manager or supervisor understands this clearly, knowing where things are not going well can help to determine a course of action. Actions could include determining that a particular employee is not suited for work at home, or that a few days spent at the workplace will help complete the task effectively. Remember working at home doesn’t have to be all or nothing – there are many ways to provide flexible work that benefits both the employee and the employer.