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A Brave New World — Working From Home

Working from home is not new, but the scale to which we find employees working from home is new and can be overwhelming. 

Many companies have found that travel expenses and overhead have been reduced, others have found that many employees are more productive, and still others see themselves able to grow without a heavy infusion of capital. There has been a lot written of both the benefits and costs, but this article is not addressing why you should or should not incorporate a Work-From-Home (WFH) model, but how.

How do you create a positive and productive work environment where both the employee and the employer excel?

When the dust finally settles, there is no doubt that there will be a much greater percentage of WFH (Work-From-Home) employees than there were in the years prior to the pandemic. Employees and employers have realized the benefits, both from the quality of life and cost-benefit angles. Many companies are also considering hybrid arrangements that blend WFH with in-office requirements. However it is deployed, the challenge remains, how can a company ensure they are at least getting the same productivity from WFH employees, and that company is not negatively impacted.

Executives who have managed work from home workforces for decades agree that there is not an easy ‘off the shelf’ solution that fits every need or situation. Outsourcing call centers report having different WFH configurations and requirements from different clients at the same time. The scope and purpose of a WFH model can also vary from full-time models to varying hybrid models to event-driven models like disaster recovery.

You will quickly learn what you already know … that your needs and requirements are different from everyone else’s, so where do you start? 

9 MUSTs for the Work-From-Home Model

Define it for your company.  What does work from home look like for you? How many jobs can be done from home?  Is it feasible for some to work from home while others in the same position don’t? Does a hybrid model of WFH part of the week and in the office for the other part of the week have merit? There are a lot of potential scenarios and probably more than one that will work for your company. As we move out of the forced environment, what is the best configuration for you and your employees?

Solicit employee input.  Part of the data gathering process should include soliciting input from the employees that would or could be impacted by a change of this nature. What would the impact be on their productivity, how would their workflow and internal communications change, how will time be managed, and workspace parameters be handled? What support will be needed to ensure they are productive, and the list goes on. Allowing input and ownership of the change will also help in implementing the change.

Their Workspace is important. Require and help create a professional remote workspace that properly represents your company and is conducive to productive work, this is especially important if the employee will be part of internal or external video or conference calls.  Employers are reporting higher rates of dismissal just for WFH workspace issues. You can break this down into a few general areas.  

Technology:  Do they have the computing strength and internet bandwidth to perform uninterrupted. Do they have the required monitors, printers, scanners, etc?  Is their internet secure from public access or do they have a VPN service? What service will you provide for them to communicate with internal and external customers?

Environment: Is the area free from noise and interruption, is it ergonomically conducive for longer periods of work.  Is the area physically presentable for video conferencing without relying on pixelated backgrounds from video conference providers?

Compliance:  Ensure your remote employee can comply with all regulations germane to their position.  Solutions are typically technology-based but can often be solved with changes in processes or procedures.   

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Diagnose and address the employee for the desire and ability level to WFH. Not everyone wants to work from home and not everyone that wants to work from home is equipped to do so.  Working from home requires discipline and restraint from being easily distracted. It requires focus and structure. The level of desire and ability cannot be assumed or ignored.  Managers must diagnose, train and monitor.

Consider it as a Benefit. More than a standard work condition, WFH opportunities can be considered a benefit. Earned for high performers or provided as a signing bonus. Additionally, keeping the right to WFH can be directly tied to maintaining specific levels of efficiency or productivity. If you drop below those levels over a specified period, you could lose the privilege and return to the office.  

Establish KPIs and minimum expectations … and hold employees accountable.  This is obviously not true only of WFH employees, but it is even more critical that KPIs are established, managed, and maintained. Unfortunately, we find employee KPIs missing in too many businesses, making it difficult to hold them accountable. This becomes even more difficult when we can’t directly see work happening. Let the numbers, let the outputs tell the story. You may have to introduce new KPIs or mechanisms to ensure compliance, for instance, a basic requirement like coming to work on time may require a different way to verify.

Create opportunities for all employees to interact and socialize, either virtual or in person. Unless you have an easy way for virtual employees to randomly interact with other employees, you may have to institute more structured methods like daily or weekly meetings.

  • Use technology as a tool to best recreate the workplace.  Look outside the big names like Teams or Zoom and consider services that provide an “always on” virtual work experience. These services do not rely on setting up a meeting to interact with another employee, they closely replicate an office experience, only virtually.

Manage the change.  This is not a ‘just do it’ endeavor. HR policies will need to be updated to account for time, new codes of conduct, workspace compliance.  IT policies will need to be updated to account for remote services/equipment provided and support as well as regulatory compliances. Operational M&P’s may need to be adapted to the new model. Most importantly, the people within the entire organization need to know what is changing, why it is changing, and how it impacts them.

Continually evaluate what is working and what isn’t and make the appropriate changes. Your model will be a custom model designed just for you and it may take more than one pass to get it right. Even if you happen to nail it right from the start, business climate, competitive environment, and geopolitical influences change and your model may need to adapt as well.

Is it worth the risk to do nothing and try to return to the way it was?  Surveys vary, but more than 50% of the workforce would like a WFH option and 45% of US firms are pursuing a WFH model. If you don’t change, how competitive will you be recruiting talent? If you don’t change, how competitive will you be when your competition can drive down overhead costs and prices? If you don’t change, how easy will it be to quickly expand into new markets or increase capacity at a fraction of the cost?

It is a Brave New World, and WFH models are part of it. Maybe they are right for your business, maybe they aren’t, but the discussion needs to take place. How you move forward is just as important as deciding to move forward. Talk to your people, take the time to gather and evaluate your processes, enlist those most familiar with the available technology and web-based services designed for remote and distributed workforce. Ensure employees have the desire and provide them with the ability to work remotely, monitor them, and hold them accountable.  Create a fully supported, positive work environment and your WFH model will work for you.

Pete Villari is a project director with Cogent Analytics, a business management consulting firm in North Carolina. He brings a diverse background in sales management and support while providing business owners the tools they need to succeed. No matter the role or position, Pete has always had a passion for applying business principles to maximize productivity.

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October 8, 2021
By Pete Villari

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