An international business data firm says around twenty-five million Americans are working from home at least one day per week resulting in a whopping thirty percent growth rate over a recent seven-year period.
Included in that number from Global Workplace Analytics are a little less than three million people who are self-employed and their home is the primary place for work. Taking all that into consideration, clearly, working from home is trending in a very positive way.
It has been nicknamed WFH, but whether you call it by its’ full name or the associated acronym, work from home has obtained a grip on the American workforce and it is not letting go. In fact, more and more companies are utilizing it for their employees and leveraging it as an added benefit or perk. Others, it seems, are doing everything they can to avoid it or prevent it from happening in their work environment.
The IBM Corporation has had an established work from home culture for decades. Many other larger corporations have an established policy, as well. Typically, experts in the field agree that the work from home phenomenon is more successful when it is done by large corporations and on a more infrequent basis. They also agree it is best to avoid the practice for start-up companies or smaller companies entirely, until a significant level of camaraderie is reached.
The chairman of financial company Sageworks, Brian Hamilton, in a recent Inc magazine article, espoused his views very clearly. In his personal opinion, work from home should be avoided. But, if it is to be considered by a company, there should be some parameters established and followed. Dedicated space is a must, along with setting a specific work schedule and sticking to it when at home. In other words, personal accountability is important. If you can’t hold yourself accountable in a work from home environment, there could be trouble. Hamilton suggests creating a to-do list and setting goals that you want to accomplish for the day. Finally, don’t let yourself get distracted. There will be many opportunities that can pull you away from work, don’t go there.
Marissa Mayer, the well publicized CEO of Yahoo, created a huge storm of protest several months ago, when she insisted employees of the company return to work at the office. Her concern with the work from home concept was the absence of teamwork as well as the need to develop a social connection.
Even workplaces like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are getting into the act of supporting the work from home concept, according to the Wall Street Journal. MIT is employing robots as a means of supporting workers offsite. Peter Hirst, of the Sloan School of Management wanted to offer his staff the option of working when they wanted to and wherever they were at the time. His trials had several iterations, but he feels they did work. With one exception, he was concerned that the lack of socializing might weaken the bond that is normally felt when people work together, side by side. So, Hirst required mandatory attendance in the office every Wednesday, including lunch. And he uses robots. Yes, robots. They are iPad based avatars that allow several staff members to participate in meetings while located remotely. They cannot move around the office just yet, but they are helping staff stay engaged. Christine Gonzalez, one of the employees who uses the avatar says, “Nothing can really substitute the in-person meetings entirely, but some of the technology we use comes frighteningly close.”
A recently published Family and Work Institute National Study of Employers indicated that smaller companies with 50-99 employees allow work from home more often than larger employers. Smaller firms also have more flexibility when it comes to start time and quitting time. Smaller companies also maintained an edge over larger ones in other areas such as flexibility in working more hours in one day, in order to work fewer days in the week. Paid time off for family needs was also considered a greater benefit for employees of small firms. Overtime choices were also better for small companies versus larger ones. Overall, the survey indicated that smaller companies are much more flexible in most areas of work, when compared to larger corporations.
Whichever way you look at the concept of work from home, there will be positive and negative attributes associated with the decision. You need to determine if WFH is a realistic benefit or a cost for your particular company.
Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.