Working From Home, Really?
By RICHARD B. KELSKY
When Marisa Mayer (formerly employee No. 20 at Google) took the helm of Yahoo, one of her first acts was to eliminate working from home.
But she didn’t just eliminate that. She eliminated paying people claiming that they were working from home.
It turns out that “working from home” may not be all it’s cracked up to be. It can be bad for your business, bad for you, and bad for your employees.
Whether you “work from home” once a week or every day, you can use this article to help evaluate your work-at-home approach — if you are willing to be brutally honest with yourself.
“I’m Much More Productive”
Most folks love working at home. And they have good reasons for it. Aside from a great commute and low gas and meal expenses, the primary reason is that they are unsupervised and only minimally accountable for their time and productivity.
You can spot work-at-homers easily, because the first thing they do is attempt to justify their part-time hours on a full-time salary (while still in their bathrobe): “At home, I can accomplish in 15 minutes what takes an hour in the office.”
Let’s assume that they are telling the absolute truth. The problem is that they are so pleased with themselves after that first 15 minutes, that they do absolutely nothing work-related for the next 45.
“I Don’t Need Supervision”
The vast majority of people are incapable of working from home. Other than an exceptional few, namely Einstein, Edison and da Vinci, there is no one on earth who works with the same vigor alone as when in the presence of others. And certainly not every minute of a working day.
In fact, being surrounded by employees and co-workers greatly increases effort and productivity. In essence, co-workers and yes, even employees, become your supervisor – driving you to higher, more professional levels.
And there is no substitute for the workplace exchange of ideas and experiences.
There are many times that focus —without interruption of employees —can be very productive for a business owner. But if you own a business, you know that you have a different energy and feel when you are on site. Unless you’re writing the Great American Novel, sitting around in your pajamas at home cannot be more productive than working in your store.
“What is It, Honey?”
Even the best work-at-home person is subject to distractions and interruptions.
Spouses, kids and pets are the worst offenders. They mean well, but they unconsciously interpret your “working at home” as your taking the day off and always being accessible. Incidents that would not even merit a phone call if you were in the office, become commonplace.
That means you will never achieve the total focus that you would at the office. Whether it’s a problem with your kid’s car, walking the dog or just your spouse heading out to the gym or supermarket, interruptions make you non-productive, less effective and more disconnected.
Declining Discipline — At Home
“I get up, make a fresh pot of coffee, check the news, review the reports from each of my stores before I shower and dress.”
That may be true. But if you’re telling me that you don’t check personal email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc., you’re lying. Not to me, to yourself.
So it gets to be 10:15 a.m., and you are still in your sweats and unshowered when one of your managers calls with a crisis.
How likely are you to jump in the car and go to the store? With all the machinations of getting ready (that could take an hour, plus the drive), you attempt to solve the problem over the phone.
If you somehow manage to quell the tide of that crisis, your sweat-suit lifestyle is re-justified and you start down a path that may be difficult to backtrack.
Over time, because working from home ultimately means loss of discipline, process and control, the next symptom is overreaction: behaving like a child, to whom every minor crisis is a major one.
Ultimately, when a true major crisis hits, you will find yourself blaming others, primarily because you are home and the crisis is at your store, where you know you should be.
Declining Discipline — At Your Stores
When you work from home, it’s not just your end of things that becomes undisciplined. It’s at your stores, too.
Even if your employees don’t know exactly where you are, they know for certain that you are not in the store.
They know that cameras are just cameras and are not eyes or ears. Cameras can’t hear unhappy customers, or count cash or train tellers or pass along your experience.
There’s a difference between watching and participating. In short, bricks and mortar businesses cannot be managed from home, and on-site store managers are not owners, they are employees.
Connected or Uninvolved?
You may feel as if being able to look at cameras and computers remotely means that you are actively involved in your business.
Actually, while relying on being “connected,” all you are doing is growing more uninvolved.
You miss all of the interactions, discussions, observations, customer contacts, teaching and management opportunities that occur when you are in the office.
“Green” Claim vs. Business Realities
The “green” side of working at home is obvious: The public at large benefits from less fuel consumption, lower emissions, fewer showers, less shaving cream and makeup, fewer go-to-work clothes, fewer trips to the cleaners, less traffic and less wear-and-tear on roads.
Companies can reduce expenses through smaller offices, less consumption of electricity and heating fuels, and on and on.
But that has absolutely nothing to do with productivity and effectiveness, especially in a business which depends on direct physical customer interaction for its existence.
The Web is riddled with references to a project between Stanford University and Beijing University involving call center employees in China that is used by many to justify working at home. Their joint effort produced data showing higher contact activities and lower absences.
But how the experience of call center employees relates to business owners, managers, creative types, face-to-face customer contact employees and folks whose work and processes are greatly improved by interaction, collaboration and owner guidance is unknown.
The study also indicates that employees who work at home may be impacting their own long term careers: promotions of the work-at-home employees were greatly reduced — by about 50 percent.
And the study’s conclusion that working at home reduces the use of sick days? Who would ever “call in sick” (and use up a paid sick day) when they are already home and getting paid?
If you work at home you need rules. Rules about when you start your day, where you start your day, how you start your day. Rules about showering and getting dressed. Rules about your home office. Rules about lunch. Rules about distractions and interruptions. Rules about how often you will work from home.
The Take Away
Working at home feels good. It feels something like retirement, with a few interruptions and a little bit of work, for the exact same money. Such a deal!
Unfortunately, for business owners it’s a fantasy that is unsustainable. If you’re not able to retire now, you need to stop kidding yourself and get to the office.
You may find that some of the decline in your business is offset by your front line efforts, and that your being in the store actually drives marketing, effective new product introductions, better teller performance and control of losses and expenses.
If you can manage to take a day off now and then, OK, but keep that varied and occasional. You have a business to run.
Richard Kelsky is president of TellerMetrix, Inc. a provider of POS transaction, compliance, interface, electronic deposit and marketing software to check cashers, payday lenders and retail banks. He is also a New York and Connecticut Bar member, a Polytechnic Institute of NYU and NY Law School grad, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and a frequent lecturer on business, legal, compliance, and technology issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article does not constitute legal advice and is an expression of opinion by the author and not of any entity or organization.