Peer to Peer: Should I let my employees work from home?

Workplace flexibility pays off in better productivity and higher job satisfaction

Evaleen Jaager Roy: Principal, Jaager Roy Advisory Inc.

What do 3.6 million lucky Canadians have in common?

As of December 2010, according to Stats Canada, that’s how many of us have the shortest commutes of all: from bedroom or kitchen to home office.

The most common reason for working at home – cited by 25% of those employees – is that they’re required to by their employer.

Interestingly enough, employers are finding that productivity increases, as does workplace satisfaction, when employees have this flexibility. Added to this are the societal benefits of an improved environment with fewer cars on the road, better use of expensive office space and easier job access for working parents who often require some flexibility.

For a decade, I was an HR executive at Electronic Arts. With a young, competitive, super-talented workforce to motivate and retain, we were early adopters of workplace flexibility. I always found that employees with this flexibility were more focused, productive and happier than counterparts in other companies where workplace flexibility was a foreign concept.

But here’s another thought, particularly for executives: how often do we feel that in today’s 24/7 business environment, time for planning and reflection – or indeed for strategy and big picture – simply isn’t there as we all react to the constant round of fire-fighting, travel, meetings, emails, texts and tweets?

For me, corporate sanity often depended on carving out the occasional day where I could catch up on the big important items without the constant interruptions at the workplace.

As a working mom, the added benefit was throwing in a load of laundry – good multi-tasking that instantly made me feel even more productive.

Cheryl Nakamoto: Chief, People Progress Potential, McNeill Nakamoto Recruitment Group

Flexibility, cost savings, no commuting, increased retention, fewer personal/sick days and increased productivity are some good reasons why we should let employees work from home.

But what about the question of productivity? I’m still not sure of that answer, but I believe offering employees the option of working from home depends on the position, person and how much you want to influence your company culture.

We all know that working from home will allow employees flexibility and some will take advantage of their situation. But some employees are so disciplined that they give more to their employer. They set themselves up for success by minimizing their personal disruptions at home. So as an employer I could benefit even more by giving this employee flexibility to work from home.

Allowing your employees to work from home really depends on your company and the roles within it. You really need to set up the situation well by having clear objectives about role duties, how and when to communicate, measurable goals and instituting an audit system. At McNak, we have two positions that could allow a person to work exclusively from home. Ironically, these employees choose to work at the office knowing there is flexibility to work from home for some emergency cases. They like to be around our office “buzz” and say our corporate culture is one of the driving forces that makes their work so enjoyable. When they do work from home, they find it isolating, difficult for communication and leaves them feeling disconnected from the team. They miss the office dynamics.

In the end, allowing for a flexible work schedule must work for both parties, but use it with caution because it could negatively affect the company’s results and ultimately its culture.

Josh Blair: Executive vice-president of Human Resources, Telus

The short answer is “yes” in many cases. 

Supported effectively, working from home provides a variety of compelling benefits to employees, employers and the environment.

Telus has conducted research that demonstrates teleworking increases employee performance anywhere from 10% to 50%. It’s not just about enabling employees to work at home in every case, but rather allowing employees to work where it makes sense – in the office, at home or a combination that suits them and their leader. More flexible work schedules help employees stay healthy and productive by promoting practices that enhance their work-life balance. Teleworking can save the at-home employee about 160 hours in commute time each year and saves personal costs like gas, parking, insurance, transit passes, restaurant meals and dry cleaning. The resulting increase in engagement/commitment also helps employers. They can better retain and recruit employees, a critical factor in the “war for talent.” It also enables savings in respect of real estate costs.

Reducing commuting time and real estate requirements also reduces our environmental footprint – up to 3,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas a year per full-time teleworker. Furthermore, working from home relieves strain on transportation infrastructure, including roads and public transit systems. To effectively implement telework, you need to equip employees with technology like smartphones, Internet connections, videoconferencing, instant messaging and social media. Today, more than half of the Telus team has the ability to work at home. Within the next few years, our goal is to have 70% of our team working from home or on a mobile basis and 30% working full-time in our future-friendly offices.

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