As the last few days of August slip away and we are on the doorstep to September, many things are in flux. Summer is coming to an end and schools are back in session. As I’ve mentioned in a few of my other blog posts, adaptability is a necessary skill for employees but also businesses too.
Today’s workforce leverages technology like never before. Nearly everyone in business has a smartphone with calendar appointments and/or a company laptop with the latest productivity software. Some of these programs are dedicated communications tools like Microsoft Outlook and Skype for Business. In a matter of minutes, you can send a file over a virtual network and be on a video conference with your team. Some companies recognize the flexibility this allows them and can be shrewd with their need for physical office locations. Why pay thousands of dollars for a floor, multiple floors or an entire building when you can utilize a virtual office? Armed with a powerful laptop computer and Wi-Fi access, many employees have the essential tools to do 90-100 percent of their daily duties. Need to email a contract or presentation file? Done. Need to video chat with your customer for that same presentation? Done. By multi-tasking and using the latest programs, employees today can accomplish much more in a short time than their predecessors.
Obviously there are some times when it is necessary for companies to gather their teams in a central location or work on projects under a single company roof. However, the majority of personnel in departments like sales, collections and customer service can operate the bulk of the time without having to physically come into a formal office. Company servers for storing files can be accessed for soft copy documents; in turn those items can be copied and modified with software and sent to internal and external customers without having to visit the physical company file server.
In this age of companies trying to maximize the upward bell curve of sales and income and minimize the corresponding curve of expenses and liabilities, allowing employees to work from home accomplishes several things. First, the less personnel in your business’s office space, the less annual overhead cost. Next from a time management perspective, if your employee doesn’t have to fight traffic to get into the office, whether it is ten minutes or an hour commute, it makes keeping defined business hours more manageable. Piggybacking onto that, you get a more invested employee. If you have an employee who doesn’t have to physically go out and meet with clients but can do a pre-defined set of duties from their home that perk will be hard to find at another company. Naturally this will keep employee turnover low and lead to increased productivity because who wouldn’t rather be comfortable and in their home environment while working? The work from home option/benefit has special appeal to those people who have a family unit. How many times does a company lose a day or two of productivity because a parent has to stay home with their sick child? Many times that employee could just as easily be sitting at home accomplishing work with the minimal necessary disruption to periodically take care of their child. This flexibility ingratiates the employee to their employer and makes them think twice before leaving for another company. Because how can you really quantify the real benefit in dollars and cents for this privilege?
Obviously some companies have reservations about allowing employees to work from home due to abuse of the benefit or existing office space leases that already account for an allotment of head count. Management at some of these places will try to point to team-building and departmental relationship building in having physical proximity of their employees but these arguments are largely invalid. To make my point, let’s take a look at social media for example. How many people have a Facebook account, a Twitter account or a LinkedIn account? I know I have all three and just going around the office where I work, I know the majority of my co-workers have at least one of those three. On each of those social media platforms, I ‘know’ several people whom I have never physically met or have a verbal conversation with. But there are some of those virtual people whom I have had an IM (Instant Messaging) conversation with about a broad range of topics. Some of these people I have never met but we still have learned about each other through our online profiles or had discussions and have developed a pseudo-friendship even without meeting face-to-face (kind of like having a pen pal in the 21st century).
At the core of my argument, I am trying to convey that with technology making the world smaller and more quickly accessible, the traditional business office where every facet of the business is produced and conducted from one location is virtually a thing of the past. Products are produced across oceans and imported for distribution and sale. Global sales offices exist around the globe with ‘team members’ never having met in person. Everything in today’s society is sold around convenience and perceived value. Amazon offers free two day shipping to their ‘Prime’ customers. Periodically the newest IPhone is promoted as new and having more user friendly features. Convenience and perceived value goes a long way towards satisfying your customers. So what has more convenience than working from your own home? What gives more perceived value than not having to commute or invest in extraneous business wardrobe?
If companies are willing to invest in quality candidates to build and support their business plans, then they can also extend a bit of trust and faith in those same candidates to act as professional ambassadors for their company in exchange for the privilege of working from home. To balance the scales a bit, companies can quantify standards or benchmarks that will allow employees (especially new employees) to achieve these parameters in exchange for this privilege. For those old school managers who are still remaining on their side of the line, the work from home option doesn’t have to be 100% of the time. Maybe offer to let qualifying employees (by achieved goal standards) work from home once or twice per week as long as their performance matches or exceeds expectations. I know from my personal point of view that the work from home incentive is largely sought after and revered among my peers. As a employer trying to attract the best candidates and hold the line on expenses, what better way to sweeten the offer without having to increase salary to the point where you may be less comfortable long term?
Thank you for reading and perhaps digesting my thoughts on the subject. I hope your workload is such that you are able to finish comfortably ahead of your deadline and with satisfactory results.
— Scott Latta —
(Previously Published under my former employer’s Blog Site – 5 of 6)