My dad worked from a home office for years, long before it was common or popular to have a commute as short as the hallway. He turned my brother’s old bedroom into an office, and he outfitted it with everything he needed. It was fully functional, stocked with all the supplies a stationery-obsessed college girl could want.
When I moved out of my childhood home and into my own apartment, a two-bedroom so I could set up a home office too, I started to realize how different our jobs were. He was an AT&T manager who worked from home full-time. He had meetings to attend, the rest of his team knew when he was on the clock and if he wanted to take time off, he put in a request.
As a freelancer, I didn’t have any of those requirements. I even tried juggling a glass of wine with an article deadline one of my first afternoons as a freelancer (don’t do it, trust me). Freelancers have a lot on their shoulders in terms of creating a workspace that’s supportive of their career and lifestyle, but companies with a distributed workforce have to figure out how to do that for all of their employees. They also have to set up communication paths so that collaboration is smooth. It’s a tall order.
Technology has made it possible for employees to work from home (WFH) often and for some companies to be 100% remote. Tech also changed the perception of remote work, as well as common working locations and the notion of traditional hours. Most importantly, modern companies feel that employees don’t have to gather in the same location in order for them to do their job well.
Types of Remote Workers
Remote workers are not the same as freelancers, though they share similarities. Additionally, an employee who WFH now and then is not the same as a person who works remotely full-time. Each type of employee has their own office setups, expectations, requirements and schedules.
In-Office Team with Flexibility
Today, many companies have office space in a central location but allow employees to WFH on occasion, such as:
- An employee has a medical or personal event scheduled, like a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with their child’s teacher. In these cases, working from home is an alternative to taking a sick or personal day, and the company won’t be quite as short-handed for the day.
- The employee has recurring WFH days because they’re better able to focus on certain projects from the peace and quiet of their house.
- There’s an early meeting to attend and the employee has a long commute to the office.
Since these situations call for only infrequent WFH days, the employee’s home office isn’t optimized for full-time work. They may be missing any of the following:
- Dedicated office or workspace
- Reliable, fast Internet
- Necessary equipment, like a printer or scanner
- Office supplies and work-related software
- Childcare or pet care
These employees deviate from the normal routine once in a while and make do with what they have. However, their home isn’t necessarily ready for full-time productivity and success. Here are two more issues that may arise:
- The WFH employee may miss out on important conversations and decisions by being away from normal, daily work conversation.
- For in-office employees, the workday gets interrupted if it takes a while to prep and test the tech needed so the WFH employee can attend a meeting.
Employers who’d like to allow employees to WFH on occasion should carefully choose the days when this is most convenient for the entire team. Company-wide guidelines can clarify when an employee can take a WFH day. For example, maybe WFH days are only approved if there aren’t scheduled meetings, other WFH employees or an excessive number of WFH days that month.
100% Remote Team
On the other end of the spectrum is the fully-remote team. This means that there’s no central office and that every person who’s part of the company works remotely. Here are some ways that remote teams are positioned for success:
- Remote workers need a dedicated workspace that’s closed off from the rest of the house. They don’t work on outside projects during the workday or act as the primary caregiver for a relative or child. Typically, remote workers aren’t watching movies, cleaning their kitchen or going out for a run in the middle of their workday. They’re in their workspace, just like they would be in an office.
- There are clear standards for when the employee will start and stop working, when and how they’ll be available, and when they’re not expected to work. Remote workers have to avoid burnout just like freelancers because there’s a temptation to always be working when it’s so accessible.
- Communication is primarily digital. Team members can communicate one-on-one, in groups made up of specific people or in open chat channels. At Elegant Themes, we use Slack for that.
- During meetings, every person participates via video. There aren’t just one or two people seen and heard in the meeting – everyone is present and represented. Holding meetings via video instead of over the phone allows for body language, too, and people don’t talk over one another as much.
- Those who are not available for a day get up-to-speed when they’re back, and they’re still involved in decision making. They can read the chats they missed or watch a replay of a recorded meeting.
- Employees have regular check-ins with supervisors to go over performance, deadlines and expectations.
- The company is responsible for paying for the changes that have to take place in the home. They won’t have to pay for the employee to build a wing for their home office, but they would have to upgrade their WiFi, for example.
Figuring out if remote employees are right for your company will take time. You have to decide how many WFH days to allow when starting out, who can request them and how many people can work remotely at once. You may find that some employees are less productive on WFH days while others are more productive. You’ll then have to decide how to tell some employees they can’t work remotely any longer.
For many employees, working remotely is more convenient and comfortable than heading to an office every day. That improvement in their quality of life translates to better work. For companies, having a distributed workforce opens up the door to more candidates regardless of where they live. Today’s job seekers are actively looking for WFH jobs, so smart companies will consider creating remote opportunities.
Ready to get out of your own way and make some much-needed changes at the office? Check out my blog post about leaning into the illusion of control to smash your business goals.