Is it wrong to stop some employees from working remotely?

Dear Manager, I would like to work from home like everyone else.

Poor Casey. From her perspective, everyone else is allowed to work some or all of their week outside the office. It’s not fair.

But is it good for your company to let everyone in the office work some or all of their work hours remotely? If you offer it to one employee, do you have to offer it to everyone?

For clarity, let’s divide up companies in the remote work universe into two categories : Full-time Remote and Work from Home Perk.

Full-time Remote companies typically don’t have a central brick and mortar office and employees are vetted and hired to work remotely and have the temperament to be successful. Does this mean that I can’t then set up a local office for meeting important clients (for example) and staff it with an office-based team? Of course not. Is it fair? It’s not only fair, but necessary in some circumstances. In fact, the distinction between those types of employees makes hiring and managing them easier. As a manager, when hiring for your remote positions, you can focus on acquiring independently-minded, self-motivated, organized individuals who can manage themselves effectively from anywhere.

Separately, your office-based employees need traditional office-based skills and a face-to-face team-oriented temperament which is far easier to staff for and will have no expectation of working remotely.

Work From Home Perk companies, on the other hand, have the hardest time both balancing staff that can also work remotely and understanding who should or shouldn’t work outside the office for any length of time.

When staffing a brick and mortar office, your main concerns are: can the candidate do the job, are they reliable and do they fit in with the rest of the team. Typically, managers don’t consider if a candidate can also manage themselves effectively working remotely. But, if a position offers a perk of spending any amount of time working outside the office, managers who don’t consider this as a separate skill, do so at their peril.

The same great employee who thrives in a traditional office environment with the support of managers and co-workers laboring industriously nearby, isn’t guaranteed to work well from home. Some of the best team members simply lose their drive outside the office. It’s not a personal failing or the fault of a poor work ethic. Many otherwise talented professionals need an office environment to focus and succeed.

A team member’s inability to work remotely is not a personal failing or the fault of a poor work ethic. Many otherwise talented professionals need an office environment to focus and succeed.

With this in mind, you decide to allow Jasmin to spend two days every week away from the noisy office in order to tackle a difficult task that requires intense, uninterrupted concentration. This turns out to be the best way for her to get this critical work done by the deadline and she does this week-in, week-out going forward. It becomes a perk for her because she gets to avoid her long commute on those days, wear slippers, etc. It’s also great for you because important work is reliably completed in a more efficient manner. Does this mean that now you have to let Chuck and Pat do the same? Are you somehow discriminating against them? They are both decent workers in the office, so wouldn’t it just be easier to tell everyone that they can work from home two days a week?

Thank you, Admiral Ackbar.

It’s a trap!

Allowing all office employees, regardless of their ability to self-manage, focus and work independently to spend some of their work week from home is a death spiral to productivity. Don’t assume that all of your team members are just like you or that productivity will magically increase because of the sheer joy that most office workers will experience on letting them skip the commute. A part-time remote option can be a useful perk but it must make sense for both the company and the employee.

A part-time remote option can be a useful perk but it must make sense for both the company and the employee.

Back to our pretend office denizens, you might allow Pat do something similar to Jasmin’s situation because you know from experience that she has the drive and personality to get things done even if she is sitting on the side of a mountain. Chuck, on the other hand, is a hard worker in his own way but needs to be near co-workers and within site of his supervisor in order to stay on task enough to meet his deadlines.

Managers need flexible tools to help their teams succeed, not one-size fits all inflexible company policies.

Join our team! We offer a flexible work schedule.

If you are still considering a one-size-fits-all policy on remote work for your team because “hey, we offer a flexible work schedule” is a valuable recruiting tool, then keep in mind that the risk of some employees treating those days like extra paid vacation days is real. Firing off a couple of emails from home doesn’t count as remote work.

If you do implement this policy be sure to define expectations for all staff, clearly establish goals for accomplishments when working remotely and follow up on them. Bring in remote work trainers (like me) or enroll staff in online training to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of working remotely.

“A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood” 
― George S. Patton Jr.

Going forward, vet each new employee for the additional skill of self-management when working outside the office. Look for previous remote work experience and spend a portion of the interview discussing how a candidate would manage themselves at home a couple of days a week. Remote work is a skill just like any other.

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