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Why we still worry about Work from Home policies

If you have been in the workplace for a few decades, you may remember that the idea of telecommuting began to appear in the late 90’s as Internet access from home began to become more common. Telecommuting was often poorly received, as it carried the onus of being a “trick” to avoid working a full 8 hours. Then, with the arrival of residential broadband access in the 2000s, successfully conducting a large majority of your work tasks in real-time, from home, began to become very realistic for a large swath of office workers. Managers finally had to face their own biases against WFH.

So what are the concerns that some in management have about WFH?

  1. Decrease in productivity – A common concern is that when at home, where there may be many domestic or entertainment distractions, workers will be unable to settle in and focus on their work. Kids, pets, laundry, Netflix, etc. may represent a strong magnetic pull from the work at hand.
  2. Oversight – Many managers fear that without onsite management ensuring that work is getting done, employees will slack off. Accepting or not accepting WFH for this reason represents the basic conflicting managerial attitudes in the Theory Y vs. Theory X developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1950s and 60s. Without going into detail, it hinges on whether a manager feels employees can be sufficiently self-motivated to succeed or must rely on external rewards and penalties to successfully perform their jobs.
  3. Loss of collaboration – There is also a concern that when people work alone, they miss the creative spark that comes from the unplanned and spontaneous discussion that comes about informally from mingling in the same space. Yahoo is an example of this concern. In 2013, the new CEO Marissa Mayer ended most work from home policies because she believed Yahoo needed the collaborative approach that she felt came only from sharing a common physical space.
  4. Planning – Operating an organization partially with off-site employees takes careful planning. For one thing, your IT infrastructure has to be able to accommodate the added requirements of an entirely digital office space. It also means your IT department is responsible for developing protocols to maintain off-site devices as well and support a uniform set of collaboration tools to ensure productivity is not lost because of technical problems or cumbersome work tools.

In short, some of these concerns are valid, but they can generally be overcome, at least partially, when management is committed to developing a thoughtfully-designed set of policies that will dovetail with the company’s strategic goals.