Working at Home

Imagine this scenario: You get up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and wander out to the Living Room. You stand and gaze out the window for a few minutes taking advantage of that great mountain view. Then you casually go into your home office and start looking through your email. After you handle your email you take a shower and get dressed, sweats or jeans or shorts maybe, and you go back to your office and get down to some serious work. You break when you are tired and you eat when you are hungry. When the kids come home from school you chat with them about the day and maybe you even go for a walk with them. Later you get back on the computer for another few hours and quit for the night, satisfied with your day’s work.

Okay, everyone, you can stop crying now. And you can stop shaking your head,  saying this is impossible. With today’s technology, this is not only possible it is becoming cost effective and practical.

Today many of us have access to computers in our homes that enable us to do anything from creating a report, researching a product, to writing complex computer software. With the increased proliferation of ISDN lines and alternative connectivities being explored, we can connect with our jobs and have virtually the same access as we would sitting at a desk on site. And that office does not have to be in the same town.

Security? This does not have to be a limitation. We are learning more about computer security than ever and we are finding more ways to increase the safety of our systems.

Cost? How much does it cost you to maintain a workable environment for each of your people? If you are maintaining a site for a software developer you are maintaining software, a machine, a phone line, restrooms, an ergonomically designed workstation, and you are maintaining a location. That last one is a real key. Companies are growing and are finding that they may actually be running out of room to house their people, so they double up and cram people in and they lose productivity and they may actually lose people.

Teamwork? Have you had a chance to try out Netscape’s new version 3.0 beta software with LiveChat. I went out and talked and shared a virtual whiteboard with some person in Utah, and someone else in Texas. And this is a freebie add-on to an internet tool. You have the technology now to have cameras mounted on PCs and have people share virtual working spaces and work cooperatively online. The only thing you don’t share is bad breath.

Benefits? I bet if you promised this capability to people on only a partial week basis you will have increased worker satisfaction and a whole lot more people wanting to work for you. How about having to maintain less desk space if you have workers desk share? How about having fewer cars in your parking lot, which is probably overcrowded as it is. How about giving back to the community by fewer cars being on the road?

Sick Time? If you have an employee with a broken leg they can work at home. If they have a bad cold? The employee probably would come into work, be pretty uncomfortable and manage to pass their germs to half a dozen other people. Wouldn’t you rather they stay home? How about maternity or paternity leave? Nice option for those folks who would like to be available to their kids and still have a career. What a concept!

So, why is this not happening more? Some types of work just won’t make the transition to at home work such as factory and manufacturing processes and many services and other professions. If you have a home cleaning service, this usually means the customer’s home. And some companies are not set up yet, and may not be able to afford the type of setup that would enable their employees to work from home. Other companies may work on super secret stuff that has to be worked on behind armed guards and locked doors.

Now let’s look at the ‘bad’ reasons for not allowing people to work at home.

You don’t trust your employees and you have to have your eye on them at all times. Go Away. You have hired professionals and adults, consider treating them as such and you probably will not have the turnover you now have.

The work you do needs a centralized database. With the increased ISDN line connectivity, you can connect to your database efficiently from home. How about taking snapshots of the database to work on from your home PC? Concerned about someone accessing company secrets from this? Ask yourself this: Do you think that your secret is important enough that a person will break into your employee’s home to access their PC? Do you have armed guards at your front doors to keep people from walking in? Do you have absolutely no connection between your internal computer system and an outside connection? If you answered No to any of these, try a different mindset.

A legitimate concern is the availability of people for mentoring, or for brainstorming, or for any other cooperative task. You might want to consider how much of this really does occur and you then might want to consider a partial solution such as desk sharing: two people share a desk and a PC and work at home part of the week and at work part of the week.

Communication? Last I heard, homes had phones too, and email and internet connectivity…

Concerned about that security issue? Check with consultants in your area and find out the security risks. Don’t just assume that this type of connectivity will take your important systems down, find out the facts.

How about liability? Concerned that your employee may get hurt at home and sue you? Check with your lawyer and also your insurance companies about steps you and your employee can take. And lawyers and insurance companies, start understanding this type of business…it will only increase in the future.

Costs? You bet there will be costs to enabling off-site employees if they need computer access. But consider what you can get back: The main factor that raises envy in me and my professional peers is when one of us can work at home. It even beats out salary as the number one reason to take one job over another. And for most companies, the number one cost is their employees. Want to attract and keep the best?

There are a lot of issues to working at home. I would like to hear from companies that have made this transition successfully and would like to publish your success stories in the month’s to come. And I would also like to hear from those companies who have made a choice not to allow off-site employees and their reasons. Let’s start exploring this issue and see “Why we CAN work at home”.

That’s it, folks.

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