While many organizations have found a way to cut costs by allowing employees to work “virtually,” or from their homes, many other organizations have rejected the model. While there are a lot of myths surrounding work-at-home employees (“they could be on the golf course for all you know!”), there are a number of companies who have had experiences, both good and bad, with the work at home model.
Bloomberg (News - Alert) Businessweek this week is examining the pros and cons of working from home. Two experts, Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist of Mimecast; and Ben Waber, of Sociometric Solutions, presented two very different ideas of whether working from home is a boon to the organization (Borenstein) or whether it causes more problems than it solves (Waber).
Here are the overlying ideas, for and against.
An edge over competitors in recruiting. Working from home is popular with employees, therefore you will have larger pool of candidates applying for positions, and in the end wind you will up with higher-quality employees. In addition, companies using home workers can make use of employees who might not otherwise be able to offer their skills -- those who are handicapped, for example, or geographically far away.
Reducing costs. Office costs drop with fewer people on-site, while salaries may be lower for employees in the hinterlands, says Borenstein.
More motivated, focused employees. Employees may work better and smarter without the need to commute or the distractions that can occur on-site.
It's a good way to test drive technology. The kinds of technologies you would use to support a small, remote workforce are the same as those you would require for an expanding organization. Bringing these technologies to bear early means you can build on them as the organization grows.
It's bad for communications. People still need face-to-face communications to get things done, says Waber, and remote working just doesn't provide it. People with face-to-face networking are more productive than workers isolated at home.
It takes too much time. Explaining a complex position via e-mail, says Waber, without the nuances of personal, face-to-face communication, takes far longer than simply explaining it verbally. Waber does not address the benefits that video conferencing can bring to the enterprise in this case.
The social interaction is lost. Talking before a meeting, around a water cooler or even over a coffee after a meeting can help cement relationships, smooth over small slights and irritations in a way that e-mail can't, and can help co-workers build deeper bonds and more trust.
While both positions raise valid points, it seems clear that whether remote working will work for your company depends on too many factors to make a blanket call on the topic. What is the nature of your business? What kind of people are you employing? Are they full-time or part-time workers? Are your sales cyclical or seasonal? What type of technology are you using and how up-to-date is it? How old are your workers on average?
Before you can begin to determine whether a work-at-home workforce is good for your company (and for the employees themselves), it's clear that a full evaluation of your business, its needs and technologies is merited. And as with most enterprise-wide programs, starting small and working up is a good way to begin.
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Edited by Rich Steeves