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Working from home – for and against

14 Apr 2015

The industry I work within has created an environment where working from home is now an option for many people, but what are the positives/negatives of taking up that option?

DTS has been around for 13 years, and for the first 12 of those we never really allowed staff to work from home. On the odd occasion, sure, it would be allowed if unusual circumstances required it, but the general policy was that we had offices in Wellington and Gold Coast and those locations would be where people worked.

As we have grown, things have changed, and with our recent purchase of ITtelenet, we inherited a business that had several people in various locations working from home. This raised concerns for me such as:

How would we monitor attendance and productivity?
How would existing office based staff feel about the inconsistency in work conditions?
How would we ensure training and sharing of knowledge would still happen?

In the last 6 months I have come to realise that there are a lot of benefits to having staff work from home, these include:

  • Makes expanding into new cities more cost effective. In addition to the people we have working from our Wellington and Gold Coast offices, DTS now has staff in Christchurch, Hamilton and Auckland, all of whom work from home. If we were paying rent for offices in each city, our costs would have blown out.
  • Provides a way of attracting talent to the business, and keeping people happy once on board. Commuting to work is the worst thing ever; being able to get up later, and to free up an hour or so per day to spend with the family, are solid perks.
  • Casting a wider net. Further to the above point, being prepared to employ people based on talent and experience and ignoring their location as a deciding factor enables us to get the best possible people to join us.

The negatives/difficulties:

  • Dress code. We still video call each other a lot, and if people in the office and dressed professionally, while the home office workers are in short sleeve tee shirt, it seems to the office based staff that stricter rules apply to them. We also use video calls with clients, so it is important that home workers dress (at least on the top half) to company standards.
  • Sharing of knowledge. I have learned so much from taking in conversations happening around me in the office, you just can’t absorb that passive and unstructured sharing of knowledge when working from home. Daily stand up meetings via video conference help, but are not a complete substitute.
  • Shared culture/inclusiveness. It is hard to get a cohesive work environment when people outside of the office(s) spend a relatively small amount of time interacting with the rest of the team, again, stand up meetings help, Christmas functions and other events also help, but can’t replace that sense of office spirit and camaraderie.
  • Getting people together for events is more expensive. A dispersed workforce means hotels and flights add up when trying to host events.

So, what makes a work from home situation work?

  • Young kids at home make it tough to be productive. I say this as a father to two year old twins. I have a good home office set up, but I can’t get much done until after they are in bed. Unless you have a stand-alone office set up and/or extremely well behaved children, productivity will suffer as children are cuddled, spoken to, tantrums are dealt with, etc.
  • The right person. It takes self-discipline to work from home. There is little direct oversight, and plenty of tempting distractions. If the employee can focus, has a genuine dedication to doing their job well and in a timely manner, it will work.
  • The right workstation. DTS provides workstations that match those of our office based staff to ensure that the tools available to staff are consistent regardless of location.
  • Having a presence feature. We use Skype a lot, and that keeps all of us in constant contact via IM and able to see who is at their desk or away. This near constant sharing of information keeps the team engaged with each other through the day.
  • Clear view of productivity. We use Leankit for project management, and tickets within our CRM for operational tasks. Using these tools helps ensure project timelines are met, specific tasks are allocated to individuals, and workload is shared as evenly as possible.

I am no longer a work from home sceptic, but having staff members based in one of our offices is still my preferred scenario.

Brendan Ritchie is the CEO of DTS, a business focused ISP that has been supplying clients across Australia and New Zealand with internet, voice and tailored WAN solutions since 2002. Tweet him on @bcarmody.

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