More and more businesses are embracing remote work structures, acknowledging the cost-saving benefits as well as the flexibility it offers to employees. Understandably, however, many business owners can't help but worry that allowing their staff to work from home could foster bad habits.
The underlying concern for small business owners is trust. While we are aware that time wasting can happen within the confines of the office, it can be seen as a bigger risk once an employee is out of our sight, and even more so if they are in an environment potentially riddled with distractions and temptations. In order to ensure a work-from-home scenario is successful, some helpful steps can be taken.
Present it as a privilege rather than a right
The first step to ensuring a work-from-home option is respected is to present it to your staff as a privilege to be earned rather than an expected right. Of course, offer all your team members an equal opportunity to earn this privilege. Ensure, however, that current staff performance is the determining factor of whether or not the green light is given. This also means setting clear goals and quotas and determining whether your employee is capable of meeting them consistently from home.
Set up a clear structure
The last thing you want is for additional work or struggles to result from having employees work remotely. Ensure a clearly outlined structure of days that can and cannot be worked from home is developed. For example, Fridays may be a particularly quiet day for your business, so you may allow staff to work from home every second Friday. Whatever the case, a clear structure and rotation system will mean that you and your team are always aware of the days when other team members are in the office, making things such as meeting schedules easier to manage.
Clarify expectations - both yours and theirs
It is vital that you clarify to your employees exactly what you expect from them when working remotely. How quickly do you require emails and messages to be responded to? How regularly do you expect them to check in with other team members? How much detail do they need to provide about their actions and whereabouts throughout the day? Each business will have its own requirements, so ensure all areas are covered and avoid the assumption that something is obvious. It's equally important to understand your employees' expectations of their role from home, so be sure to request their feedback when developing protocols.
Like any other privilege offered to employees, working from home needs to be handled in a fair and consistent manner. While you may base decisions about who can and can't work from home on performance alone, employees can quickly become disgruntled if they suspect favouritism. This is where clear protocols developed before any changes are made become crucial.
In addition to presenting a work-from-home option as a privilege, it can be useful to present it as an ongoing trial, which were it to begin to fail would be reconsidered. This not only means your employees will strive to maintain high work standards, but they may even exceed them as a way of showing you they can be trusted.
Remember, working from home does not work for all businesses (or all employees), so ensure you keep abreast of any issues that may arise. It's also important to remember that it is not only the performance of the remote staff member that needs to be monitored. Having team members away from the office can also impact on the rest of the team's ability to carry out their roles, so ensure that the benefits always outweigh any pitfalls.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.