Here's How Letting Employees Work From Home Can Harm Your Company
Do you get anxious when you hear that one of your employees is choosing to work at home for a day? It’s an understandable reaction because it’s easy to picture your employee binging on Netflix on their couch rather than working.
But if slacking off is what you’re worried about, you’re overlooking the real danger of letting employees work at home. The problem isn’t whether they are getting work done, it’s that letting employees work from home too often destroys your company culture.
In fact, there’s lots of evidence showing that workers get more done at home. TINYpulse recently released a poll evaluating the work habits and job satisfaction of remote workers. We talked to more than 500 remote workers in the U.S. and found that, on average, they were happier and felt more valued compared to non-remote workers. Ninety-one percent of them said they got more done at home, and the happiest ones worked shorter hours over a seven-day week rather than a typical Monday to Friday schedule.
That’s great news for companies like Hilton and Xerox, which actively hire remote workers. But it might not be a model that works for everyone.
At TINYpulse, we allow a certain level of remote work, particularly when employees need to be up early or late talking with clients around the world. But I would never allow my staff to go completely remote. Sure, we’d save on rent, but I firmly believe that a strong company culture determines your success, and you can’t have a strong culture without people working together in an office setting.
There are, of course, exceptions. Last year, an employee got an opportunity to live in New Zealand for a year. She was such an important part of our company culture, and already indoctrinated in it, we decided to allow her to work remotely while she traveled. Despite the time difference, we kept her involved in our culture by allowing her to run meetings and participate in events via Skype. When she returned to Seattle in December, the transition from remote to in-office was seamless because we kept her involved in our culture.
A strong workplace culture is an organization’s No. 1 competitive advantage because you need enthusiastic, excited employees to build great products and delight your customers. When a majority of your employees work remotely, you lose the ability to build that culture.
Despite the benefits of allowing remote work (including our own polling), there’s evidence remote workforces detract from company culture. A study published last year in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries found that when a culture of offsite work took hold, the employees that craved the social aspect of working in an office suffered because the workplace became unpredictable.
Famously, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer restricted the practice of working remotely and was criticized heavily for it. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that she did it to boost morale and innovation. For Yahoo to reemerge as a leader, she believed that employees had to come together in a central location.
In our own poll of remote workers, nearly one-third of them reported having a problem with a coworker due to the remote arrangement. It’s easier to communicate, solve problems and have casual collisions with co-workers in person. You can’t do that over email or Slack. Remote workers we talked to rated their company culture lower than the average of non-remote workers.
Leaders should forget their anxiety about whether employees are being productive when they work at home. There’s evidence that suggests they are. The real problem with remote work is that it can erode your company culture. Allow employees to work remotely when it matters, like if they’re sick or need to be up late to talk to someone in a different time zone. In all other instances, a tight knit company culture should be your priority.
David Niu is a Seattle-based serial entrepreneur and founder of TINYpulse. Previously, he was co-founder of BuddyTV and NetConversions. He is the author of "Careercation: Trading Briefcase For Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness."