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Can I Work From Home?

When an employee asks this question, having a company policy in place can make answering it much easier.

The scenario: Your business has seven employees, all of whom work at the company's only office. A situation arises where one of your employees has a work conflict. Maybe she recently had a baby, her spouse or child developed a serious medical condition, or her spouse has a short-term assignment in another state and she wants to go with him and return when it's completed.

Despite the conflict, she wants to continue working for you and suggests working remotely from her home. She's your company's best employee, and you don't want to lose her.

This is a tough situation, but as an employer, it's one you need to be prepared to address. Before deciding whether to allow one or more employees to work offsite, review the positive and negative aspects of both options.

Why it's best to have all employees at the same site:

We're creatures of habit; most of us only have worked in on-site offices. As a result, having everyone together is customary and reasonable. Bosses generally like to see and interact with employees, especially if something urgent comes up.

This is especially true when you need to schedule a meeting with employees. When everyone works in the same location, you don't have to go to great lengths to find a convenient time for everyone to meet. It's simply a matter of stopping by their desks.

Unfortunately, some employees work best under supervision. It's often easier to control operations when everyone is present in the same office.

Why it's not necessary to have all employees at the same site:

Many organizations have offices in multiple locations, whether they're in another city, state or country. In today's modern office, people can readily communicate via computer, fax, phone and videoconference. Connecting with fellow workers can be just as easy--or difficult--whether they are in the same office or completely off-site. For example, it takes the same amount of effort to call someone in the next office as in another city.

Many employees who are given the opportunity to work at home are more dedicated and productive because they're so appreciative that they can meet both professional and personal needs on their own terms.

Your Options
After you've reviewed the pros and cons of allowing your highly valued employee to work from home, you may want to develop a written policy to protect yourself. Regardless of your decision, the issue will likely come up again.

If you let one employee work from home, other employees may resent your making an exception for one person and not offering or allowing others to work from home or another remote location. If your staff is jealous, they may criticize you for giving another employee preferential treatment. Morale, worker satisfaction and productivity could begin to tumble. Customer satisfaction and revenues might drop as well.

Here are a few of your options:

1. Require that all employees be located on site. In this scenario, you end up losing your best employee.

2. Create an on-site-only policy, but allow for exceptions under specific situations to be approved by you, on a case-by-case basis. If you implement this policy, you'll need to build in some safeguards.

Be clear with others about the criteria and obligations for receiving permission to work off site and when permission can be denied. This should be a well-thought-out policy based on a rational understanding of the issues and options.

Be prepared to create processes that allow at-home workers to stay in contact with on-site employees. To accomplish this, an off-site employee will need to be connected by computer, fax, phone or videoconference.

To maintain good communication between on-site and at-home employees, you'll also need to establish a way for the two groups to make immediate contact with each other. This may mean blocking out a few hours when all employees need to be available. This is particularly helpful for those who work non-traditional hours.

Time flexibility also provides employees the freedom to carry out other obligations that necessitate them working off-site, yet allows them to be available for crucial employee contact and communication.

Each off-site employee must clearly understand all deadlines and how to meet them. When the employees are "out of sight," it's easy to forget about them, as well as their tasks and responsibilities. This also means that you need to follow through to ensure that deadlines aren't missed.

3 . Allow other employees to work at a remote location. The same safeguards listed above should be implemented.

Whatever option you choose, it's crucial that you remain in contact with the off-site workers; otherwise they can soon feel out of touch with the organization. And being out of touch can often lead to lower-quality output and feelings of not being valued.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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