Home Invasion

Step Three: The Housework

The primary downside to inviting employees into your home is the resulting lack of privacy. Your lifestyle, Walton notes, is on constant display: the unwashed laundry, the pizza box on the floor, even prescriptions in your medicine cabinet. He suggests examining how your lifestyle may affect the way employees view you. Will they respect you as a strong, capable boss if they see your pink bunny slippers in the bathroom?

Walton points to another consideration: "If you've built a successful business, you want to reward yourself for that success, and this can sometimes create resentment." While traditional CEOs go home to a house their employees will never see, yours won't miss the fancy new car in your driveway or the new furniture in your living room.

According to Walton, your most important task is to separate your work and your home, both mentally and physically. Creating boundaries is crucial, he says, and the first step is to establish "no go" areas for employees. "In a normal office, if you step out for lunch, you can't be reached," he says. "In your home, however, this could mean stepping into your kitchen for a sandwich or into your living room for a chat with your spouse. It's tempting for an employee to feel that since you're so close, you're available to take calls or answer questions." Walton adds that your staff also needs to understand that when you leave the official work area, you have "left the building" and can't be reached, even if you're just a few steps away.

Walton also recommends establishing "no go" times for your employees. "You don't want to have someone in your home when you're not there," he points out. "Also, if you want to stop working at 5 p.m. but someone else may be finishing a project, it may be hard for you to switch off and `go home.' Nor do you want employees showing up for work early, while you're still in your pajamas drinking coffee." His recommendation is to establish specific work hours--and to give employees the freedom to take work home, with the assurance they'll be paid for that time.

But the most important step of all, says Walton, is to observe your own rules. If you blur the boundaries between work and home--eating lunch at your desk or leaving the kitchen door open when you're on a break--you can't expect your employees to respect those boundaries. "Your staff needs clarity," he says.

Boundaries are also important from your employees' perspective. While you're used to your home's idiosyncrasies, employees may find it difficult or unpleasant to work in a dirty, cluttered, noisy or disorganized house. Employees might not appreciate sharing a bathroom with a litter box, making lunch amid piles of unwashed dishes or trying to work around mounds of personal clutter. Shouting children, barking dogs and loud music can also disrupt employees. Such an environment may lead to a higher turnover rate.

Hannah and Boyd offer the following tips to help you handle these issues:

  • Hire a housekeeper. Don't add to your workload by trying to keep a spotless home/office; let someone else do it for you. This will not only help you keep your own messes private, but will also make sure you won't be stuck cleaning up your employees' messes.
  • Designate a work area for your employees. Even if you can't provide an office with a closed door, make sure your employees have a designated area to store paperwork, projects, equipment and personal items.
  • Install a vending machine. "Whenever I went to the refrigerator, someone had always taken the last Pepsi," says Boyd. To solve the Pepsi problem, she installed a soft-drink vending machine and also placed a minifridge in the garage for employees to use. You might also install a snack machine and set aside a specific area of the sink with coffee supplies for employees.
  • Designate an employee bathroom. Keep the bathroom clean, well-stocked and off-limits to the rest of the household.
  • Try to arrange for off-street parking. This is important, as the zoning laws in some neighborhoods require it.
  • Be flexible about hours. If your home office is in a residential area, employees may have to drive some distance just to pick up a sandwich. Longer lunch hours give employees a much-needed break.
  • Remember that your employees are not babysitters. Clear lines should be drawn between work and family. Ensure that family members don't disrupt your employees' work; and don't expect an employee to take care of pets or plants.

Hiring an employee to work in your home affects the entire family. Before you make the decision to hire, discuss the situation with everyone involved. This will help you identify needs and potential problems in advance, and will also help establish ground rules for everyone. Only take on the employees you really need, so it will be easier to keep the help you hire. Hopefully, you can find someone who will not only grow with your company but also help your company grow.

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