Work from home (WFH) is, astoundingly, still not the norm in United States IT offices. This is ludicrous, because:
- Employees want it
- Employers already provide it
- The objections to work from home do not hold up
Edit: *Sigh*. People. People people people. “Work from home” does not mean “100% full time work from home and never in the office”. It can range from “emergency” WFH, to part time WFH, to full time. Companies should offer these options.
Employees want work from home
“Gallup consistently has found that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job…” – New York Times, Feb 2017
People want to work from home. The most consistent complaint I have among my data and programming colleagues is that their job does not allow WFH. The most often-asked questions I get from the same group is, “How do I get a job with work from home?” The answer right now is, basically, “Good freaking luck.”
Do all IT professionals want to work from home? No, not all of them. And even the ones that want WFH care to do so full time. I know a handful of professionals who don’t want to work from home at all…but even those people admit that they want the flexibility to work from home on days when their kids are sick, the car has a flat, or workers are coming, rather than having to take time off of work.
Everybody – EVERYBODY, I say – wants at least the option of work from home.
What’s more, quite a lot of people will run to another job with the alacrity of a golden retriever after a tennis ball, the moment they see it. Check this out:
- 24% of employees surveyed say their company offers part-time WFH.
- 12% said their company offers full-time WFH.
- More than 35% of employees would change jobs to work from home, even part time!
Let’s say that again.
More than 35% of employees would change jobs to work from home, EVEN PART TIME!
Everybody wants the option of work from home. If you offer it, you become the cool employer that people are very hesitant to leave.
Employers already provide work from home
Companies with technology departments – that is to say, nearly all of them – already have work from home. You know how I know? Because if a server goes down on the weekend or evening, I can dial in and fix it! And it’s been that way for the last 10+ years. (Ask me how I know.)
You already have work from home, but right now it’s only allowed when it benefits the company, and not the worker. A DBA can work from home on evenings and weekends, because it’s faster to dial in to an emergency than to drive all the way in. But somehow, WFH evaporates when the clock strikes 9am.
How much better off are companies that are WFH-positive? Think about it: Employees have kids that get sick. Houses with bad plumbing systems. Commutes that get snowed on or iced over (yes, even here in Texas). Would you rather have your project suddenly on hold because Dean has to stay home Tuesday for the roofing company, or would you like Dean to sit down at his kitchen table and bang out the reports while people bang on his roof?
Pick the “kitchen table” option.
Companies with single parent employees, and employees with health issues, will especially benefit from a WFH policy. A kid with the flu won’t mean a delayed migration; an IBS flare-up won’t halt the security audit.
Those employees are happier, too. If there’s no WFH option, there’s that worry that all the “extra” time off – as compared to healthier, childless, or two-parent-family employees – will be counted against the worker at review time. Again, ask me how I know.
(I feel compelled to add: employees who are too sick to work really should just call in sick, though. WFH doesn’t replace sick days.)
“For employers telecommuting can limit absences, increase productivity, and save money.” – Monster.com, “Working From Home can Benefit Employers as much as Employees
Objections to work from home fall apart
“I like to see people in the office,” also known as “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?”
Most employers stake the bulk of objections here. A boss wants to know whether you’re working or not. The thing is, the boss almost never actually sees their people working. You can see people type, you can see people click. But who’s to say what the techie was doing? Were they working on something for the company, or responding to something on Twitter, or Reddit? Maybe they’re updating their resume!
It all depends on the company goal:
- Is it to make sure people are working like you want them to? Then I suppose you might have a valid argument, but we should really talk about your management style…
- Is the goal to get the work done? Then you’ll know if they’re working pretty easily, because the work will get done.
It’s that simple. If the work is getting done, then what do you care where it gets done, or even when?
Break: Story time!
I used to work with a programmer who hated coding during the day. He got so little done, because of all the interruptions. He just couldn’t think properly during the day.
So we started letting him keep his own hours. He worked in the middle of the night and we couldn’t reach him the first half of the day because he was sleeping, but his productivity went through the roof. Nobody was bothering him and he was able to follow a complete thought for longer than a couple minutes.
Moral: Get over the notion that you have to be able to reach all your people the second it crosses your mind. Give them the space they need to do their job right. And if they’re not doing the job, then restrict their work from home! Or, you know, replace them with someone who will do the work.
“Some people need close management.”
Some people do need close management! You can closely manage those people in the office, or via Skype or email (or the message system of your choice). Stop pretending that stopping by someone’s cube is the only way to manage them. Make them accountable. If they’re not meeting their deadlines, keep them on track. Have your normal review process. Someone who underperforms out of the office should be treated just like someone who underperforms in the office.
I used to work on a project where everyone was remote. We lived on Skype. I collaborated with two other DBAs online daily, and it worked great. We got the job done, and it was better than being in the office, because we didn’t have to all huddle around a desk.
So, unless your management style relies on having to touch your employees constantly (and I feel compelled to tell you that this style will get you into trouble), then this isn’t a valid argument.
“It’s not fair to other workers who literally can’t WFH.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: Lots of things aren’t fair. Can you make sure that the person who saves the company $1mil gets a bonus, instead of their VP? Can you give the janitor a salary closer to the senior DBA’s? Can you make good on training promises when the budget dries up? No, you can’t. So “fairness” can’t be the only measure for this decision.
Different jobs have different requirements. Sales people are required to travel, but I don’t get to travel on the company dime. That’s a necessity, and it’s not my job, so it’s fair. The art department gets to sleep all night, while I have to stay up with a downed server. It’s not their job to get up and fix the emergency, so that’s fair. The surgeons at the hospital I work for get to go to a seminar on the newest laser technologies; I get to go to a conference on the newest high availability technologies; the warehouse workers don’t get any conference. That’s fair. (I do hope the warehouse guys get a cookout or something cool, though.)
Everybody does not get the exact same benefits, because each job has its own circumstances. I happen to have a job that supports me being able to work remotely. So do a lot of sales people, and so do a lot of executives.
Everything is a trade-off. Every job has its perks and its downsides. WFH just happens to be a perk of being on call and working the extra hours.
“But I don’t want to work from home.” (From an employee.)
So, don’t! Full-time or even regular work from home isn’t for everyone, and shouldn’t be mandatory if there’s an office to go to. Workers who don’t want WFH should come into the office (where they can be distracted by coworkers instead laundry).
The point isn’t that everyone should work from home; it’s that everyone should have the option to!
“It also worked better when employees were given the freedom to decide when they wanted to WFH…” – Huffington Post, New Study Decodes When Working From Home Is Actually Productive
Conclusion and references
You almost certainly already have work from home for your IT folk. You just need to allow – no, encourage – work from home for your people who want it. Easy tips:
- Start with 2-3 days a week and see how it goes.
- Keep in touch with your people; check in on email or Skype as needed.
- Keep your eye on work done, not number of hours I’ve seen Employee X. Are projects moving forward? Things getting done? Then it’s working.
- Encourage work from home for “I must be home” days – that’s, sick kid days, car trouble days, bad weather days, and so on.
Who else supports work from home? Like, pretty much everyone. Articles on Forbes (“Top 10 Benefits of Working From Home“), Harvard Business Review (“To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home“), Entrepreneuer (“20 Reasons to Let Your Employees Work From Home“), and many more expound the good of flexible work arrangements. A simple web search will turn up hundreds more articles on the topic.
And then there’s me. I’ve been an independent consultant and business owner for years now, and by far the biggest benefit is still the ability to work in my home office. If I ever return to work a full time DBA position, you can bet I’ll hold out for a shop that has full-time work from home.
It’s not that hard. Let your people work from home.
Want more? See the follow up, “Employees, encourage work from home“.
Bonus: A rant on productivity
One of the biggest problems we have is all the time that’s wasted in the office. People come by to pull you into useless meetings, to tell you about what their kid did yesterday, about how stupid this other guy was they just had to deal with, or even just to hang out.
I’ve always found the office a horrible place to get anything done.
I used to have a boss to insisted that, and I quote, “All work in the US is done between 9 and 5, and it has to be done in an office!” That’s where work is done, and that’s final. So, no work from home (unless it’s after hours and it suits the company’s needs).
One thing people like this don’t realize is that they have a door that can be closed. Coders and data people – in other words, regular employees and contractors – don’t have that luxury. What we have is an open workspace, so we can interrupt each other’s thoughts and waste time with stuff that has nothing to do with my current project…er, I mean, openly share ideas and move the company forward in an organic and inviting manner. Yeah. But back to the story.
But even with his door closed, the “”work is done between 9 and 5” manager was still getting interrupted quite a lot. One day he got a really important project, and he declared he was going to finish out the week at home so he could get something done, because he was being interrupted too much in the office!
When I reminded him that he had a door, he said that people just knock and come right in anyway. When I reminded him that we work from 9 to 5 in this country “in an office” and that this was a great opportunity for him to show us how it’s done, he told me to shut up. Then he went home and we didn’t see him for the rest of the week.
See? His bosses weren’t sitting there watching him work either. They just cared that the project was getting done.
This article was co authored by Jen McCown and Sean McCown, and we mean every damn word of it.