In times of crisis, the companies that have always integrated a home office into their working lives are in a better position.
When we wanted to introduce the option of home office in 2016 at the request of the co-workers, parts of my management ran up a storm. Recently, during a workshop at a customer, managers here also wanted mandatory attendance times (core working hours).
How crazy is that? There’s a lot more to be gained by using home office the right way. If you consider a few points.
How long has the home office even existed and why was it introduced?
Jack Nilles is considered the inventor. He worked at USC (University of Southern California) in 1973, a university with many contacts in the business world. This included an insurance company. At first, this insurance company was not interested in his crazy idea of introducing telecommuting workstations, i.e. workstations away from the actual office. However, they were very interested in reducing the turnover rate of their co-workers, which was about one-third, and reducing the cost of expensive offices.
They had to hire new co-workers every year, most of whom were data entry employees. There were two problems, downtown L.A. offices were getting more expensive (so was housing). As a result, co-workers had to commute longer and longer distances. So Jack suggested that they’d be better off setting up offices near future employees, outside L.A.
It would have been too expensive in 1973 to give the co-workers computers at home.
At that time, they mainly had gigantic terminals that could only be connected with a very slow data connection. The cost of data transmission would have been huge.
But if co-workers walked, biked or took a bus to a nearby field office far from L.A., they could use a minicomputer. Data could then be transferred at night. That had solved the problem.
The productivity of these co-workers increased by 18%, and the turnover rate went to zero. The first telecommuting workplace was invented.
How to be successful when working in a home office – whether you already work in a home office or are thinking about implementing such a program, here are a few things to consider.
1. Communication is the most important thing
Technologically, you’ve been able to interact with other people over almost any distance for years. For example, at my last company, which was spread across four locations, we successfully implemented zoom. Zoom has been with me everywhere ever since. I also used it successfully as a consultant in.
First fallacy: a face-to-face meeting is no longer necessary.
Because interaction at a distance is generally much more difficult than face-to-face communication – and we sometimes forget that.
For example, the important informal conversations in the hallways or offices are missing. Also missing are all the body language cues that occur in face-to-face meetings. Co-workers may not pick up on the feelings of frustration, elation, or confusion that can accompany a given situation on the phone or even via video.
In short, home office co-workers have a fairly limited and two-dimensional window.
Organizations and communications must shift from “observation to exploration.”
In other words, instead of assuming your co-workers will already catch on to what’s important (and they can’t if they’re not physically present), you need to offer a lot of tools. Then your colleagues will also stay in the loop
IM, Video / web meetings,Cloud-based project management and collaboration tools to name a few.
You as a leader need to change your behaviors and encourage the “exploration” part with your co-workers. What is meant by this? You need to proactively & regularly contact your home office co-workers to share important information. Your co-workers on the other end of the line need to be encouraged to ask questions when they don’t understand something. Are you already doing this? Great!
In other words, you need to actively overcome the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that can make it difficult for your home office co-workers to function as a successful, integrated part of the team.
2. Recognize and overcome isolation
Co-workers and organizations tend to overstate the benefits and underestimate the challenges.
While the benefits can be significant:
- Reduced costs, especially for office space,
- higher morale,
- increased productivity,
the challenges are daunting. Anyone who has worked in a home office knows that in addition to the communication issues mentioned above, one of the main difficulties of the home office is the sense of isolation.
You are a social being. In general, you feel and work better when you’re with other people. Conversations and video conferencing can help solve this problem, but you need to do more as a leader.
The most effective way to overcome home office isolation is to bring people together in person.
Too expensive for you? I can tell you from experience, the benefits are enormous. As CEO of two companies, I had a main office in the far south, a main office in the far north, and a branch office each in the west and east.
Despite this challenge, we brought everyone together at least once a year for a face-to-face meeting, a combination of work and fun.
And yes, it was expensive. But we found that these opportunities, a deeper bond, created a sense of “us” that allowed us to work together more efficiently and better the rest of the year. You can read about why a kick-oft, for example, is super meaningful here.
3. Support self-organization
You sometimes forget that in the home office, no one is there to see what your co-workers are doing… knowing that everyone in the home office is often surrounded by distractions.
When you’re working from home, your
- Your environment,
- your partner
- even neighbors
- distract you – not to mention the TV and the refrigerator.
So ,unless you’re extremely focused and organized, it can be difficult to be as productive as you would be in an office full of colleagues.
That’s where it helps to offer training on time management and prioritization, and to make sure that as a leader, you’re helping your co-workers use what they’ve learned.
You need to find new ways to measure productivity:
Most people are motivated because they get feedback that they are doing a good job.
It’s harder to get feedback when you work in a home office. Part of the problem is that it’s harder to measure “good” for home office work – in fact, many standard measures of productivity involve physical presence:
- Getting to work on time,
- working X number of hours,
- responding immediately to personal requests.
Companies with home office programs need to create results-oriented tasks: Percentage of tasks completed on time or increase in customer satisfaction.
Creating these productivity metrics outside of standard work hours is critical to your co-workers’ morale and allows you to both measure the effectiveness of your home office work program and gain insights on how to improve it.
However, all of these ideas and approaches are applicable to “regular” workplaces as well.
The coronavirus has shown us the speed at which we need to respond today. How our working lives are changing more rapidly than ever.
We are increasingly reliant on technology to get work done.
We need to be more aware of our communications – more organized and focused, and above all, clearer about what measurable success looks like.
What’s your experience with home office? As a manager and also as a co-worker? Post it in our LinkedIn group. I’m curious.