Friday, March 14, 2014

On Working At Home

James McGovern started an interesting discussion on Linked-In and Twitter.

@mcgoverntheory If my employees were 2x as productive at home, I wouldn’t care if they worked 1/2 the time. I wonder how many managers agree?

@richardveryard Do you apply the same logic in the office? If an employee does a day's work before lunch, are you happy for her to go to the beach in the afternoon?

Nik Webster I subscribe exactly to this approach where fixed price contract is concerned. If a customer is contracting you for the output if your deliverables why should the staff be any different. Without at least a flexible approach to this idiom, good performers are essentially penalised.

@chuckcatania Richard, I do. And there are some companies starting to look at it the same way, particularly in Silicon Valley. But, not quite in that way. I'd look at it as... if you finished a full day's work before lunch, take the rest of the day for business-related activities... go networking. Take the afternoon and hit a bucket of balls, or go to the spa, or go to the firing range with prospective clients or co-workers or current clients. And we're starting to see this mindset a little bit more... thought provoking post, James.

Chuck clearly wants to have it both ways. If you have a really productive morning, you can be rewarded by having the afternoon off. But you are expected to use the time in a way that benefits the company,  In other words, the hours still belong to the company, not to the employee.

I prefer Nik's position. (As it happens, Nik is a colleague of mine at Glue Reply.) High performers should be rewarded for productivity. Wherever possible, workers should be managed and rewarded according to the outputs or outcomes they produce rather than the number of hours they put in. (This is one of the reasons for preferring fixed-price or output-based pricing for consultancy and contracting work whenever possible, rather than the dreaded "time-and-materials" contract. However, there are reasons why this isn't always commercially viable, which I don't want to go into here.)

This raises the question of consistency and consequence. If an employee is managed on one basis when in the office and on a different basis when working at home, then this creates an imbalance. The high performers may prefer to work at home, and the low performers may prefer coming to the office and counting the hours. Managers may say this is okay, because they trust the high performers more than the low performers, but that's not the point. In any case, when individuals are having an unproductive day, they can waste just as much time in the office as they can at home, and waste other people's time as well.

@Mrguybrowning writes, "Most people are now self-managing. When you work from home do you have your boss in the spare room to make sure you're OK? No, you don't. Technology and empowerment have liberated us from the traditional hierarchy." (Managers must make a difference – otherwise why keep them? Guardian 17 March 2014)

Some employers want to encourage people to spend more time in the office - not for the sake of closer monitoring and control, but for the sake of improved collaboration. @DavidAmerland writes, "The very technology that enables telecommuting and working from home could be destroying its value. Although productivity may increase in the short term, working from home may prevent your teams from working effectively." (The Real Problem In Working From Home - It's Not What You Think, Forbes June 2013)

Unfortunately, offices don't always foster productivity and collaboration. See my post How Offices Make People Stupid (Feb 2013).

Nevertheless, those who are obliged to work at home need to find ways to maintain productivity and focus, as well as appropriate levels of interaction. See Rodrigo Franco, Working From Home? Here's an Extra Shot of Focus (LivingSocial Technology Blog April 2014)

Updated 4 April 2014

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