Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Working from Home?

Yahoo has recently been reported to require all employees to work at their site and banned working from home as an option? What do you think? I can see both sides to the argument and feel that there is some sort of a compromise which can make work/life balance (you know that thing your employer always touts) more, well, balanced.

First of all, let me say that all jobs don't lend themselves to work from home. There are some jobs that you really need to be at the office. For example, if you deal directly with customers on your premises, second if you do what I broadly call "clerical" jobs, third, managerial jobs. Although the latter managerial jobs do lend themselves to being offsite occasionally -- say when you're writing up performance reviews, working on budgets and other planning activities, etc. I think the best jobs for working offsite are jobs where the worker is given goals to achieve within specific time periods and where constant coordination and communication is not necessary. For example, even at the office, much of my communication with others is via electronic media -- e-mail, IM, conference call, etc. I can still engage in much of that whether I'm 20 feet from someone or 20 miles. (By the way, my commute is about 50 miles round trip -- 30 minutes to 1 hour each way. Working at home saves this time, gas, wear-and-tear on the car and me -- sort of like getting a small raise.)

OK, having laid out those parameters, let me say that I think many of us can work at home 1-3 days per week without issue. I leave a couple of days for those face-to-face meetings, hallway conversations, etc. that need to occur. But, in order for this to happen, there have to be adjustments on the part of the employee, managers, and other team members. Technology needs to be in place to allow the employee to communicate as necessary. These can take the form of Virtual Private Network (VPN), whiteboard/collaboration systems, instant messaging, e-mail connectivity, etc. I'm going to assume, here, that these are in place, otherwise, you probably won't be able to do even the basics from offsite.

Keep Your Status Available

I use the status on Lync to make sure that folks can "find" me. I set the availability as I go away from my computer. That way, people can quickly find out where I am, sort of like walking by my desk.

I also set my calendar to reflect the "working offsite" status and provide my cell number conveniently for users to be able to check. This also has the advantage of keeping others from scheduling last-minute meetings with me. By the way, I am meticulous at keeping my calendar up-to-date. This makes it easy for others to judge my availability and know where I am. It's very convenient to say, "Check my calendar and schedule 30 minutes . . .". It also makes others "secure" in knowing that they can always find me.

I don't usually set an e-mail auto-response when I work offsite, but I have been known to do so when I want to concentrate on something without interruption from e-mails. I usually state that I'm working offsite and may not respond quickly -- it's amazing how many people send and e-mail and if they don't receive an immediate response, call to see why. I generally keep e-mail up via VPN constantly at home (and at work, by the way). I have been known, however, to close e-mail both at work and offsite to be able to concentrate on a specific task.

Respond as Quickly as Possible

A corollary to the status discussion above, is responding to requests as you would if you were at work. The more confident that people are that you can be reached, the fewer complaints you will get from team members, clients/customers, and management. If you get an e-mail, check it out as you would if you were at work, respond to IM's and answer your cell phone. We even have the ability to route our desk phones to our cells. I usually don't use that feature unless I am expecting calls. However, we can also check our voice mail remotely, which is a good feature to have just-in-case. Note that sometimes, I will leave an internal response message on my desk phone stating that I am working offsite, but this isn't something that I do often.

The key idea in responding quickly is to make others comfortable with you working offsite, knowing that you will respond within a reasonable period as you would when you are at work and knowing that they can get in touch with you, even if it isn't by walking up to your desk.

Work or Be Available During "Core Hours

 Unless you have made arrangements otherwise -- and reflected that on your calendar -- be available during whatever your core business hours are. For example, 9AM-3PM or whatever. If you are working offsite because you have doctor's appointments, or other engagements where you will not be available, schedule these specifically on you calendar as you would any on-site meeting. Again, the idea is to give management, co-workers and others confidence that they can reach you and get a response in a reasonable time. The more you can do to build up this confidence the fewer issues you will have with working off site.

Plan Offsite Work for Response Times

This one is an issue for you. You need to understand the technology behind your being able to work from home. If you work over VPN like me, then you have to consider the type of work you have to do. If it involves moving large files from servers at work, you may see significant delays that could slow your progress unacceptably. Make sure that the type of work you plan for your off-site efforts can be accomplished in about the same amount of time as it could when you are on-site. Otherwise, you may find that your progress is unacceptable for your co-workers, management, or customer.


So, what's the bottom line? Work offsite if you company supports it and you can be as productive or more so than at your primary work location. Gain the confidence of your co-workers, management, and customers by being as responsive as you are at work and they can "find" you when they need you. And enjoy!

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