So you want to work from home? Well, you have to convince me first.
Ok. Maybe not me exactly, but I am a business owner and for years I successfully ran my business with the mom-and-pop mentality that if I could see my employees in their seats, they must be working. If I sent employees home, who knew whether they would goof off or not? Most businesses start with this mentality and many never get past it, however, at our company we changed course and have not only improved morale, but also gotten more efficient as a result.
This is a post on how we did it, and (more importantly) how can you convince your boss to let you work from home. Here's the five-step process:
- Broach the subject
- Articulate the objections
- Find alternatives
- Establish a baseline
- Review & experiment
Broach the subject
This may sound silly, but you don't get what you don't ask for. At my office it was one or two employee that voiced interest in being able to work from home a few days a week, but when we brought it up at a company-wide meeting almost everyone was interested in it. If you want to work from home, talk to your boss about it.
Articulate the objections
If you don't already have a work-from-home policy, chances are your boss will say "NO WAY!" to your first request. At this point it's very important to find out why the answer is no. Everyone is different, but here were my concerns:
- I didn't want to lose visibility.
- I wanted people to be able to stay in touch
- I didn't want people to get distracted
These concerns, while they are valid, are not necessarily solved by working in an office:
- At a company with 20+ people, I really don't have as much visibility as I think I do.
- People in the same office don't always talk.
- People get distracted at work (8 hours of meetings anyone?)
That said, the concerns still have to be addressed. That brings us to the next step.
Now that we know the objections, we can propose better ways to measure worker productivity and facilitate communication:
- We track our time using Harvest.
- We track our code commits using GitHub.
- We graph our productivity (billable vs. non-billable time, etc) using Google Visualization.
- We use Yammer to help people keep in touch.
- Everyone sends an email indicating what they will be working on when they are out of the office
As a result of this increased communication, everyone actually has more insight into what people are doing and communication barriers can be overcome.
Establish a baseline
No matter what your metrics, it's important to establish a baseline. These are numbers you can refer to once a work from home experiment goes into effect. This also has the added benefit of helping to identify employees that may be key contributors that are not being properly recognized and can help make sure that the tradeoffs (more communication and tracking) are things that you are prepared to do.
Review & Experiment
Once you have these new numbers and metrics, review them with your boss to get his (or her) take. Chances are they will be so impressed and reassured by their new business metrics that scheduling work from home days will be no problem. As you start to work from home, you also have real practical numbers you can look at to make sure you are being as productive as you are in the office.
Here are a few final tips, based on our experience:
- In our experience work-from-home days are best when they are optional company-wide days. This means people can come in to the office, but if they are going to work from home, everyone does it at the same time. This can help avoid the problem of being the odd-person-out.
- We like our work-from-home day to be once a week. This allows for a co-working experience as well as a little heads down productivity.
- It's important to realize that not everyone works well from home. Working from home is a privilege that requires additional responsibility. Metrics are an important and impartial way to identify workers that shouldn't be allowed to work from home.
Good luck! Be sure to share your experience with us.