Many companies allow employees to telecommute. There are benefits for both the employee and the employer, but not all departments, managers, and employees are suited to the home-office environment. If you're considering a work-from-home option, start with this list.
The first two questions are for you. The next four questions evaluate your department. A wrong answer to any of these questions is an indication that working from home might be difficult for your department. The final four questions will help you quickly determine which employees might not fare well working from home. After answering these questions, you should know whether your department should move from "thinking about it" to forming a real work-from-home strategy.
1: Can you be available during off-hours?
Many work-at-home employees work odd hours. Can you be available when they need you? If you're unwilling to accept this challenge, make your availability clear from the beginning.
2: Do you trust your employees?
Some managers won't be objective enough to evaluate this particular question honestly, but let's try just the same. If your department is performing adequately, but you still don't trust any of your employees to do their jobs without your constant input, maybe you have trust issues. If you think this might be the case, stop now. Why put yourselves and your employees through an experiment that's doomed before it starts?
About your department...
3: Is upper management on board?
If you don't have the full support of your manager, stop now. Spend more time researching and present the idea again later with new supportive facts. Don't proceed until you've convinced upper management that the work-from-home venture is worth trying, unless you want to work from home yourself — job hunting is work, right?
4: Will the move require a budget squeeze?
While technology makes it easy to keep in touch with an offsite employee, the initial setup and monthly maintenance can be expensive. The company probably has most of the necessary equipment, but you'll have to finance the physical move and installation of all that equipment. Then there's the cost of specialized software and monthly service fees and subscriptions. If there's no money for this, stop now.
5: Does your office suffer from a lot of drama?
If the left-behind employees are going to vent petty jealousies over the work-from-home arrangement, tread slowly. We might all agree that their attitudes shouldn't matter. The reality is that these people can suck the life and productivity right out of your entire department. They'll make everyone miserable, and miserable employees aren't productive employees. This situation isn't a show-stopper, but It's something to face, not circumvent.
6: Can the team handle the separation?
Some teams are a cohesive group where the synergy just works. Moving even a few people out of the office might have a negative impact on the morale and spirit of the group. In a situation like this, try a part-time, temporary arrangement. As the team adjusts to the changes, you can be more liberal with the work-from-home policy.
About the employee...
7: Would you let this employee house-sit, dog-sit, or babysit?
The ideal home-office candidate is a responsible and reliable individual. If you don't trust this employee to do his or her job with little input from you, stop now. There's no need to evaluate any further.
8: Does the employee work closely with other employees?
It can be difficult to maintain availability to one another in home offices for those employees who interact throughout the day. It isn't impossible, but I recommend that you put these employees into a future "maybe" group. Work out the kinks with individuals who don't need to interact regularly with other employees. With a little experience, you'll be better prepared to tackle this group's complex needs.
9: Does the employee work with sensitive data?
Employees who work with confidential or sensitive data will require special attention, and working from home might be more work (risk) than it's worth. Can your company support the necessary network security (and its cost) to protect data? If not, stop now —although you might consider letting this employee work from home part time.
10: Where does the employee live?
Make sure the employee's home has reasonable Internet access. Cable and DSL are reliable, but satellite access is notoriously undependable. Dial-up is too slow to handle most of today's technologies. In addition, an employee living in a van down by the river probably isn't a good candidate. If Internet access is inadequate, or the employee lives in questionable circumstances, stop now.
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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.