Should You Let Your Employees Work From Home?

If you run a business such as a security equipment manufacturing or distribution company or a security consultancy for example, it may be the case that occasionally you will have employees who wish to work from home. What are the major benefits and pitfalls of allowing selected employees to work from home? Well, I will answer that in a few minutes. My wife just asked me to help her with something in the garden…

And therein lies the major trap; the domestic distractions that can get in the way of production. There are certainly some benefits to the employer in terms of office space and infrastructure, but how do you balance this off against the fact that your employee is no longer visible to you.

The answer is to focus on production. Irrespective of where they are actually performing their duties, what is the employee producing in the way of results? Do they produce more when they work from their home, or do they produce less? Even if they produce the same, you are better off.

The simplicity of this approach cannot be stressed enough. Forget everything else; just focus on the results that are being achieved. In the extreme, you could have an employee who works from home spending a whole lot of their time in the pool or playing with the dog, but if he or she is producing more job-related results from home than they did from the office, who cares?

On the other hand, it can certainly happen that a highly productive worker becomes distracted and produces less than normal when working in the home environment.

If you are able to measure the performance of your home-based employee, you have all you need to validate and justify your decision to set them up at home. So, before you even consider the question of the employee’s work location, make sure you really understand what their performance measurement is. That is the key!

What do we mean by “performance”? Well, the job in question is supposed to produce something. Otherwise, why do you pay someone to do it? So, what is the “something” they are supposed to produce?

Getting this straight is important. With some jobs (like in sales), this is obvious. For others, it is not so clear-cut. Nevertheless, you have to nail this one first. Just ask yourself, “What is it that this job actually produces that is valuable to the organisation?”

Be careful that you do not settle for an “action” as opposed to a “result” here. An Accounts Receivable person does not produce “phone calls to people who owe money”. They may well perform the action of making the phone calls to get their result, but what they produce is “money collected”, or some similarly worded result. Money collected is the valuable item – not the phone calls made to collect it.

Think of it this way: the performance result is something that another part of your organisation (or a customer) receives from your employee. And the thing they receive is valuable to them. The Finance Department does not need the phone calls from Accounts Receivable – they need the money collected.

You know you have identified a valid result when you can measure it. It is how many, how much, what percentage, etc. If you cannot measure it in terms of numbers, you are not there yet.

Now you know what the job is supposed to produce and how to measure it. The next thing is to look at the person you are considering for home work. Have they been producing good results consistently from their office location? If so, you are reasonably safe in letting them work from home. If not, you run a high risk of even worse performance if you let them work at home.

The rest of the situation is easy; you just monitor their results over the next few weeks, or months (depending on the nature of the job). If their statistical results drop dramatically, you have a problem.

When you get such a drop in results from a home-worker, review their performance with them and point out that their work-at-home privileges are contingent upon them maintaining their production. If this does not improve, bring them back into the office.

It is a good idea to give them a checklist of things to be aware of in their home-working environment. These are the obvious distractions that can occur when they combine their family environment with their work environment.

So, your first step is to clearly define the performance results for the job in question. If you then measure your home-worker against those results, you will know if you have a viable solution or not for that employee. It is the results that should drive your decisions here.

Neil Clark has spent 30 years as a manager in both large and small organisations in Australia and South East Asia. He can be contacted via www.performancemanagement-made-easy.com, where more articles of this type can also be viewed.

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