You Say “Working From Home” I Say “Couch Surfing”

There’s a lot of pressure these days to be the coolest kid on the block from a culture perspective. After all, if you’re vying for the best talent you’ve got to compete against the big dogs who are going to great lengths to attract employees with their fancy kitchens, crazy perks, margarita machines…and flexible-work-from-anywhere attitudes.

It’s enough to make any leader feel like they should adopt a relaxed attitude about when and where employees work. But don’t go jumping on the bandwagon just yet.

First, you might be happy to know that there are a LOT of amazing companies to work for who do not have employees meandering in and out at all hours of the day/night. They have set office hours. This is especially true in the (software as a) service space where employees need to be available for customers. However, these companies tend to make it really easy for employees to find coverage or leave the office to do ‘life’ stuff.

Second, and more importantly, if you have a deep rooted feeling that employees who say they are working from home aren’t actually working as hard/efficiently as they would be in the office then BACK AWAY FROM THIS IDEA.

You telling employees they can work wherever/whenever but always being a skeptic will absolutely crush your culture. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. Kevin says he’s working from home, you don’t believe him. You get annoyed because you think he’s actually watching TV but you have no real process in place to tell if he’s actually working or what he’s working on so you just stew. Other people see you stewing over Kevin and his TV-watching-lack-of-working and they start to question if you’re doing the same thing when they stay at home to meet the repair man. Now everyone is confused and they start to resent you for your stupid policy. At that point you’re worse off then you would have been if you’d just skipped the change in the first place.

I’m a huge fan of letting people work remotely but only if you’re the kind of leader who is truly okay with it. There are processes you can set up to casually track what people are getting done and ways to use it as a privilege for employees who deserve it. If done properly it can be a great perk but it’s just as okay to have set hours and places for work to be done.

Marisa is a leadership coach, management trainer, and motivational speaker on all things Culture and Engagement.  She has helped lead the culture and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. Today Marisa consults, coaches, and leads seminars for organizations looking to increase productivity by focusing on management training and employee engagement.

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About Marisa

Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Richmond, Virginia.
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2 Responses to You Say “Working From Home” I Say “Couch Surfing”

  1. Ben Hubbard says:

    Interesting take on a hot topic… my question is whether or not a business should teach new leaders/managers how to manage remote workers, and if so, how they do that. It’s a new muscle many businesses are learning, and as you wrote, doing it poorly is worse than not doing it at all.

    • Marisa says:

      Ben,

      Thanks for the question. I definitely think it’s up to a business to teach managers and leaders how to manage remote employees. Does it have to be a formal training program? Not necessarily. Here are some of my additional thoughts on this topic:

      – Managers take their cues from the leaders above them. How does Senior Leadership address this issue? Chances are they are going to do similar things. If Senior Leadership can’t handle employees working remotely then they should consider not doing it at all.

      – If Senior Leadership believes that working remotely is something they value as a company then they need to be hiring other leaders/manager who are capable of leading in this manner. If they hire someone who firmly believes that employees aren’t working if they aren’t in their seats and cannot let go of that belief then there will always be a disconnect and that is not a good hire. Now, even a manager who has spent 30 years managing only employees who work from one location can learn tools to manage remotely IF they are open to the idea.

      – When trying to make a transition within an organization it’s NEVER wise to make a blanket policy change. Do NOT start with a blanket “we let employees work remotely” policy. Start by changing the way Senior Leadership treats their direct reports. If Sally needs to meet the plumber and Sally is a good employee, suggest that she just work from home for the day. Meet with her to get a quick update on where she is with her current project, ask what she’ll be working on the next day and then ask her to report back on how things are going the next time she’s in the office.

      – Remember, it’s more important for employees to be meeting goals and getting their work done then it is where they’re working from. Are they meeting their goals? If you’re not sure, then as a manager you are not setting enough goals with your employees.

      – NEVER feel like everyone has a right to work remotely. It’s a privilege for employees who are kicking ass and taking names. Employees who aren’t doing that, don’t get the perk. Lots of HR people will agree with me here because it’s not ‘treating everyone equal” but I stand my philosophy.

      I hope that helps Ben. Let me know if you have any more thoughts/questions. And as always, thanks for reading!

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