Katie Walker used to commute 90 minutes a day to her job in Miami, leaving her house before sunrise in a not-always-successful attempt to avoid traffic into the city. Tack onto that closer to two hours to get home, if she was lucky.
So when the pandemic hit in 2020 and Walker—like millions in the workforce—became an instant telecommuter, she put all that stressful car time to good use. “The amount of work I accomplished before 9 a.m. energized me for the rest of the day,” says Walker, a writer and editor who works for an academic publication. “I also added daily walks to my routine. My mood improved, plus I could be more present for my three teenage children, which made me feel more motivated and appreciative of my employer.”
That’s a big checkmark in the “pro’s” column for the many business owners who are contemplating whether to continue letting their employees work from home either full or part time (hybrid) as COVID-19 poses less of a threat. Also weighing heavily on their minds: a labor shortage caused, in part, by workers resigning from their positions or not accepting job offers if they can’t work from home. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show nearly 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021—up 3% month over month and 27% year over year.
“While the preferred frequency of WFH varies greatly among individuals, desires to work from home part of the week are pervasive across groups defined by age, education, gender, earnings, and family circumstances,” according to the authors of “Why Working From Home Will Stick,” an April 2021 research paper based on a survey of more than 30,000 Americans.
While the proverbial tide appears to have turned in favor of work from home, this arrangement may not be ideal for all businesses. Read on for some important considerations, plus five success tips.
Work-From-Home Pros for Your Business
No goofing around: A growing body of research points to gains in employee productivity and efficiency when they’re permitted to work from home—and that’s from the perspectives of both employers and employees. Much of the boost comes from workers no longer having to commute to the office, with 31.8% spending that newfound time working instead, according to “The Work-From-Home Outlook in 2022 and Beyond” report, based on the 2022 Chicago-ITAM-MIT-Stanford Survey of Working Arrangements & Attitudes, which surveyed 78, 250 Americans aged 20 to 64 who earned more than $10K in 2019.
But employees don’t have to be working extra hours to benefit their companies’ bottom lines. The ability to better balance their lives performing nonwork-related activities—relaxing in front of the TV, crossing off chores and errands from their to-do lists or taking care of their families, to name a few—can make for happier employees who are more engaged, satisfied with their jobs and stick around for the long term. Studies also show they tend to take fewer sick days.
Another benefit for businesses embracing a work-from-home model is access to a bigger, more diverse talent pool. That can spark greater innovation, lead to more informed decision-making, and result in better financial performance.
“The quality of talent these days is incredibly important, and finding that is more critical than keeping someone in a physical office setting each day,” says Lauren Winans, CEO of Next Level Benefits, an HR consulting firm based in Pittsburgh. “With so many companies allowing their employees to work from home, doing the same is part of being competitive. There’s something to be said about keeping up with the Joneses.”
Indeed, multiple studies show many employees say they would quit their current jobs or turn down job offers if they can’t work from home.
“Flexibility is a high priority right now,” Winans says. “It can look like permanent work-from-home positions or a hybrid work environment, such as home three days, in the office two days. If it’s not part of a job description or the culture of an organization, it can be considered a con by employees looking at offers.”
One more pro not to be overlooked: A business can lower its operating costs when employees work from home. “You might not need as many locations or to lease as much square footage,” Winans points out.
Work-From-Home Cons for Your Business
Despite its benefits, the work-from-home model may not be feasible for every business or role. Industries including health care, manufacturing, hospitality and construction obviously need workers on-site. And it “might not work in situations where work output has to be constantly reviewed because it impacts the next person’s work,” says Nick “Ask the Headhunter” Corcodilos, an executive recruiter and management consultant based in Lebanon, NJ. “In that case, you might need them in the office.”
Businesses must also consider a number of additional hard costs associated with employees working from home. They may be responsible for providing workers with essential equipment, such as computers, printers, routers and office furniture, as well as related services, such as internet connectivity, online software subscriptions and mobile plans. More people working from home also means an increase in entry points for cyberattackers and employees not complying with cybersecurity policies in order to get their work done, according to recent academic research reported by Harvard Business Review.
Another work-from-home con comes in the form of the time, energy and effort involved in a business reassessing and reworking its recruiting practices and HR policies, as well as understanding the different tax laws where remote employees live.
Finally, not everyone is cut out to work from home, Corcodilos says. Some workers may have difficulty managing their time, while others feel less creative and productive. Conversely, some workers may not know when to stop, which could result in burnout and subpar work. Another point: Younger workers miss out on crucial in-person learning on the job and mentoring when not in an office.
5 Tips to Help Work From Home Work for Your Business
Business owners and leaders who decide a full-time or hybrid work-from-home arrangement is right for their companies can set themselves up for success by adapting the following tips.
1. Think in Deliverables, Not Hours
In the absence of direct oversight, smart employers are reconsidering the way they define performance to focus on output. “Companies are shifting their mentality from punching the clock to measuring deliverables,” Corcodilos says. “It’s incumbent on employers to first clearly define these tasks and deliverables. Then they can be upfront with their employees and potential employees about what they need and that their performance will be measured by meeting those expectations.”
This thinking also lends itself to hiring interviews. “Say to candidates, ‘Here’s what we expect you to deliver. Here’s the schedule. Now discuss with me how you’re going to do this from home. What’s your plan?’” advises Corcodilos. “It’s no different than what a consultant would be asked.”
2: Develop WFH Policies at the Right Level
It’s always a good idea to put expectations in writing for current and prospective employees, but it’s important to avoid what HR consultant Winans calls “overprescribing.” Outline the business’s guidelines in WFH policies—don’t try to describe every potential situation. One point to make clear is which roles are work-from-home eligible. “My biggest recommendation for any organization considering work-from-home is it doesn’t have to be offered to everyone,” Winans says. “You have to step back and look at the big picture. A lot of business owners and HR folks helping them make decisions think it has to be all or nothing.”
Other policy considerations include clarification about what equipment, software, services and tools you’ll be providing or can be expensed to the business, and how they should be used; performance expectations and productivity measures; and security protocols, such as not using public Wi-Fi.
And Corcodilos recommends reaching out to employees to help shape WFH policy. “If you have current employees who work from home, ask them what they think,” he says. “Probe on how work can be done effectively at home, the best way they can be managed, and what they need from you. What are the best ways for co-workers to communicate? If there’s a problem, who should they go to?”
3. Try Not to Micromanage!
The smaller the business, the more knee-deep owners tend to be in every detail. You have to keep that in check. “Managers who are collaborative and feel their team is independent enough to work with a level of authority and empowerment are going to be most effective,” Winans says. “If being at work equals clocking in a number of hours each day, then managing a remote workforce may not be your thing.” Corcodilos agrees: “Work from home is going to reveal managers who can’t let go. If you’re a good manager who inspires good work habits and trust, you’re going to be more successful.”
4. Start From a ‘Single Source of Truth’
Business decisions are only as good as the data they’re based on, which is why experts suggest companies work from a single source of truth (SSOT). As the name suggests, rather than employees searching through disparate systems for data—which may be outdated or conflict with other versions—the company sets up a single platform where everyone accesses the same, unified source of information, and can trust that it’s accurate and reliable. The platform must be easy to use, searchable and used for most communications to allow for companywide knowledge-sharing. Among the benefits: increased productivity, faster decision-making and, ultimately, happier customers.
5. Watch Out for Your Workers’ Well-Being
For all its benefits, working from home can also lead to employees feeling isolated, disconnected from the business, anxious and lonely. Some may work too much because they’re having trouble prioritizing, Winans says. Don’t wait until their unhappiness shows up in their performance. Take the time to check in with employees, whether individually or in teams, using a multidirectional, multichannel communications approach that uses different channels based on what you want to accomplish. Methods include videoconferencing—which allows you to read the room, so to speak, as well as humanize yourself and demonstrate empathy—personal phone calls, email and online messaging platforms.
Don’t infringe on your employees’ time when they’re officially off the clock. In fact, some countries in Europe have laws in place that ban companies from doing so. The bigger takeaway: Your employees need time to disconnect, recharge and live their lives. Don’t disrupt this balance, which can be difficult to maintain when their computers are nearby.
“The future of work that HR and employers have talked about for so long is here. It came faster than we thought,” Winans says. “Many business owners are playing catch-up. It’s going to take time and effort, versatility, flexibility and agility to figure out effective ways for businesses to go from the old ways to this new normal.”