So You Want People to Work from Home?

officeHaving worked in both large and small corporate environments I’m always amazed at how badly some organizations adapt to workers working from home for extended periods. The purpose of this post is to offer some little things organizations can do to adapt to remote workers – hopefully reducing costs and improving the employee experience.

The rationale for having staff work from home is obvious, but I thought I’d reintroduce it here just so my readers have a level set before I begin.

  1. Working from home, key staff can be retained without relocation expenses and incentives. Especially during office closures.
  2. Smaller offices can be used to support larger employee populations, by having some or all employees working from home.
  3. Employee satisfaction can be improved significantly without incurring additional compensation costs. Most employees enjoy working from home.
  4. Employee costs can be reduced, duplicating the effect of a pay raise without incurring organizational costs. No gas, no tolls, no bus fare, lunch-at-home, and reduced dry cleaning expenses add up quickly.

Once the decision is made to employ home workers, most organizations rarely think thru the consequences or changes required to their own processes for properly supporting the new class of employee.

IT and Operational Support
This is the largest change required, especially if the remote employee is in a non-technical area of the business. This is where most organizations make their biggest mistakes – especially well established work environments. To summarize:

  • Changes must be made to enable remote support of laptops and software installations. This can be done with netmeeting, VNC, or other remote desktop tools. For more drastic repairs a budget for courier services is required.
  • Not all hardware will be corporate supplied or owned. To reduce your support headaches its a good idea to supply a list of suggested hardware for things like printers, fax machines, etc. that at-home employee’s will be likely to purchase for their combined home/work use. You should also consider subsidizing this ‘shared’ suggested equipment if purchased from a approved vendor.
  • The corporate directory must support the ability to support external phone numbers and extensions. The process for updating the directory must be well published, and each employee should have the option of updating their information without going thru a support tech or 3rd party. Work at home employee’s have a tendency to change numbers more frequently – so this is important for keeping work flowing and support costs down.
  • Email and other support systems that are required for remote employment should be externally accessible with a minimum of fuss. If I have to start a VPN connection, authenticate a fat client, enter a RSA key, and double click my mail folder – Its too complicated. Security is great – just streamline it to the basics required. Security folks follow the mantra ‘more is better’ for remote employee’s ‘less is better’ – strike a happy medium.
  • All web based tools used in the office should be tested and verified working for remote use. The assumption is usually if its web based – it’ll just work – but little things have a tendency to throw a wrench in the plan. The devil is in the details – and a little up front Quality Assurance will reduce your frustrations and costs on the tail end.

HR and Organization Support
Work at home employee’s require a special kind of HR support to be effective. The advantages of reduced support/infrastructure are a dual edged sword – you save money on setting up and maintaining an employee – but the ties to a company are also more tenuous. If a morale issue develops its often difficult to diagnose. Setting up a HR Ombudsman that is proactive in communicating with offsite employee’s is critical to retaining these employees.

Recognize Special Events
It may seem a small thing, but it goes a long way to keeping at-home workers engaged. When your away from the water cooler/shared lunches little things like Birthday’s, workplace anniversaries and key project deliverables often go unnoticed – leading to a sense of isolation. Recognizing these events with a small gift or personal communication go a long way to retaining staff. Remember its always cheaper to retain an employee than it is to replace them.