My partner’s and my company has, from time to time, employed people who work full time, part time, or on occasion, from their home. There are benefits of having remote employees, such as reduced overhead (they do not require an office), and in today’s world, many tasks can be performed via remote computer access that were not possible in the past. However, it has been our experience that employees who work from home are sometimes management nightmares. We have had several situations involving employees who worked well in the office, when closely supervised, but when left to their own devices, might just have well have been sitting around eating bon bons as doing the work they were being paid to do. The other interesting phenomenon is that, the longer the remote employee works outside the office, the more the rest of us forget to include this person in our daily planning discussions and other routine office tasks. Remote employees who “telecommute” may be great in some industries, but in a corporation that is people oriented and service based, the risks for the employer often outweigh the benefits unless the employee is very dedicated.
As one with a background in organizational behavior, I have been interested to observe businesses, large and small, grapple with the idea of remotely working employees. There are certainly pros and cons to these arrangements. However, as Yahoo’s recent reorganization of its workforce demonstrates, having co-workers actually work together, in the same place, makes sense. It is the “normal” business model, for obvious reasons. However, there are certain people who can work well remotely. The key is the individual’s sense of responsibility and having well defined tasks, time frames, and objectives. From the employee side, working remotely has its own challenges. Usually these arrangements are work from home arrangements and many people struggle learning how to do so without distractions such as the refrigerator. For managers of remote workers, it is important to make a conscious effort to speak with the employee, as well as communicate by asynchronous means, such as email, frequently. Of course, some jobs lend to remote working – like outside sales people. It is when other jobs are structured with remote arrangements that the most challenges arise. As an employer, be sure to know what your employees are doing and provide them with deadlines and other virtual supervision. For employees, make your presence known. Meet deadlines, speak with the boss and co-workers to keep up with the latest information at the company; try not to be invisible. I recently joked with one of our remote/virtual employees that I was thinking of having a cardboard cut out of her to move around the office – she thought that sounded fine. Haven’t taken that step yet, but who knows!