Jennifer was a rising star in her department. She was an eager and effective worker, going from intern to coordinator in a matter of just 18 months. With her new position came the opportunity to work from home a couple of days a week. After bragging to all her friends and setting up her home office, Jennifer began her work-from-home adventure.
In less than six months, Jennifer was sitting across the table from her boss in a critical performance meeting, wondering what had gone wrong.
So much has been written about the benefits of working from home that few stop to realize it’s not a decision to take lightly.
In Jennifer’s case, she was neither ready to work from home nor trained to do so. Her youth and inexperience made her think working from home was similar to managing her college workload just a few years prior. Her boss was not impressed with her hopping on- and offline to do various errands and chores, and her team found that she was rarely there to give an answer when they reached out.
Things were no peachier on Jennifer’s side. She felt disconnected from the team, often going several days without contact with her supervisor. At first, she logged on faithfully every day, posting fun GIFs to the intranet and tagging colleagues in assignments when she wanted their input. However, when Jennifer didn’t immediately get feedback because her colleagues were slammed with in-office work, she became disengaged and stopped connecting every day.
Jennifer’s dogs were a constant source of frustration during conference calls, and she missed having multiple screens on which to work. When the opportunity to take a Krav Maga class at her gym at 2:30 pm popped up, she jumped at it, not even thinking to ask her boss or colleagues.
Are there clues Jennifer’s supervisor missed? Could Jennifer’s job — which she was eventually fired from — have been saved?
To understand this, we need to discuss work-from-home preparation, considerations, best practices, and warning signs.
When implementing a work-from-home policy, draft an accessible and clearly understandable written document that everyone reads and signs. This document should cover everything from how quickly an employee is expected to respond to clients to what to do in the case of an unscheduled appointment.
And before assigning someone a work-from-home position, make sure the person has the ability to actually work from home. Not everyone’s home situation is the same. An employee may not have a private office, a quiet room, or even high-speed internet. Talk openly with your employees about these concerns before asking them to work from home.
Walk your employee through situations that they will likely encounter when working from home. For example:
1. It’s 3 p.m. and the kids are walking through the door at the same time as your big presentation. What do you do?
2. The cable company calls and says they need to shut off your cable for the day, but you have a major report that needs to be filed by noon. What do you do?
3. Your hairdresser can fit you in, but only Tuesdays at 2 p.m. What do you do?
4. You’re slammed and need to train your new hire. Do you come in on your work-from-home day if asked?
All these situations — and others — should be addressed broadly in your policy and specifically in a face-to-face meeting.
Working from home is not for everyone. Proceed with caution if:
- You employ very young people
- You need your team to be client-facing
- You are already having performance issues
- Your employees don’t have the home space to make it work
- You don’t already have solid communication processes in place
Training your people to work from is not impossible, but rolling a successful work-from-home policy out overnight is. Instead, introduce working from home in small doses to see how the team reacts. That way, you can make adjustments before small problems turn into major crises.
During the rollout, ask employees to get their home offices set up and offer allowances or assistance to help them do so. Request that each person bring in a picture of their home office space so you can visualize one another’s workspaces.
Make sure your communications practices are in tip-top shape. If emails or Slack messages are already falling through the cracks, you are not ready for working from home yet. If employees rarely or never use your intranet, start the change management process before you implement a work-from-home policy.
Work-From-Home Best Practices
It’s not all doom and gloom. Working from home can go from WTF to FTW if you create best practices around it. Your employees will have more flexible work options, and you will (eventually) save money on expensive office space. Plus, you’ll have an additional benefit to tout when recruiting.
Here are some best practices that set the work-from-home winners apart from Jennifer’s poor team:
1. Have a Policy in Place
A good work-from-home policy will cover everything from clocking in and out to expectations and deliverable loads.
Your policy should also take into account that some jobs simply don’t need as much face time or oversight as others. At Red Branch Media, we have folks who work exclusively remotely; they simply send in their deliverables on schedule. And we have those who get 1-2 days per week, unless we’re training new employees. Make sure to outline these differences in the policy to save yourselves a lot of questions later.
2. Stay in Contact
We have thrice weekly standup calls to connect those of us in the office to those working from home. We have a mandatory in-person meeting weekly so we can all connect as people. Our reports and intranet help us see how our clients are doing and keep each other accountable.
Other options include:
- Have video chats to get everyone connecting face to face.
- Use the company email or intranet to give shoutouts for great performances, birthdays, and similar occasions.
- Create a book club to help keep employees connected around a core set of ideas.
- Have a movie night where everyone watches the same flick and gives their feedback.
Do you see the thread running through all these ideas? It’s interpersonal connection. That’s the most important best practice of all!
3. Watch Your Language
One of the warning signs that Jennifer and her supervisor should have caught was when she referred to a work-from-home day as her “day off.” I strongly urge those considering work from home in their workplaces to specifically call out language like this. Even “out of office” has a connotation of not working.
“Work from home,” “accountability days” — whatever you want to call them, encourage everyone to adopt language that makes work-from-home days even more productive than in-office days.
4. Treat Working From Home Like a Benefit
Working from home may be more prevalent now than ever, but it’s still a pretty powerful benefit. That makes working from home a privilege, not a right. If someone is abusing their privilege, it should be revoked.
Watch Out for the Warning Signs
A comprehensive work-from-home policy should be like a guardrail for your employees, keeping them from straying off the productive path. It should do the warning for you.
Some red flags to watch out for:
- Employee doesn’t clock in or out or let colleagues know where they are.
- Employee misses important calls or meetings.
- Employee calls a work-from-home day a “day off.”
- Employee schedules appointments regularly during business hours on work-from-home days.
- Employee regularly gets less done on work-from-home days than in-office days.
- Employee sends a flurry of work at the end of a work-from-home day.
- Employee is difficult to reach during a work-from-home day.
- Employee is less active on email or the intranet during a work-from-home day.
- Employee’s performance in general suffers.
- Employee won’t come in when needed on a work-from-home day or complains when asked to do so.
Of course, you know your employees best. If their behavior or performance changes following the implementation of a work-from-home policy, pay attention! If you intervene early, you can prevent a disaster like Jennifer’s.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Digital HR Tech blog.