Ten years ago, when an employee asked to work from home, the answer was often something like, “Well, if we do that for you, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” As an HR gal, I get that it’s important to consider all sides of an option to see what precedent it sets. I understand why managers were stingy about letting their folks work from home. But was it really the fear of everyone wanting to work from home that held them back? Or was it the fear of losing “control” over their employee that made them hesitant? Or that – gasp – employees might take extended breaks during their time at home? 

Fast forward to present day. Now that working from home has become the norm (albeit very quickly and haphazardly), it is time to revisit these preconceived notions and old questions. Study after study from the Society for Human Resources Management and others state that more often than not, productivity has not gone down in most businesses during the pandemic. Further, entities like Thrive Global and myriad productivity gurus have made it their mission to encourage humans to take time for self-care, exercise, creativity, spending time with family, etc. in the midst of their work day. This leads to work-life integration (a much more realistic target than work-life balance) and burnout avoidance. Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that many people have high energy/focus/productivity times of the day and low ones. So how does an employer reconcile all of this?

Measure, Not Monitor

First, remove the word “monitor” from your vocabulary and your practices. Using monitoring services for employees is a surefire way to erode their trust and drive engagement into the tank.

Follow Energy Cycles

Second, focus on “results” not “8-5.” Who cares if an employee takes a nap in the middle of the day and then is energized to power through later in the afternoon? Who cares if an employee writes at 10 o’clock in the evening or 4 o’clock in the morning if that’s when their creativity strikes? Who cares if an employee stops working in the middle of the day to snuggle with their kids or pets who will not be with them forever? I don’t care about these things and I don’t think employers should get hung up on them either. What I do care about are results. Are my employees delivering their projects on time and with great quality? Are they responsive to clients and coworkers? If the answers are yes, it doesn’t matter how they structure their day at home. 

Guardrails, Not Control

Third, sounds great, but it feels like guardrails are needed, right? I get that. My suggestion is that employers continue goal-setting with employees like (hopefully) they already are, talk regularly with them to get updates, and agree ahead of time exactly what is due and when. If they bomb it, coach them. If they ace it, reward them. Capture these weekly goals/deadlines/commitments/feedback in writing. 

Set a Trip Wire

Finally, what about those of your employees that do not have a job that lends itself from remote work? Tell them that. Share that you will evaluate every request to WFH on a case-by-case basis and if makes sense for both the employee and the employer, you will make it happen. If it does not work for both, remote work can’t happen, but maybe there are other scheduling techniques that might give the employee more time away from work (like four 10 hour shifts a week, three 12s, every other Friday off, etc.). If you’re still on the fence, write up agreements and state you and the employee will try this new work arrangement for a period of three, six or 12 months and you will both revisit it then and see if it is still meeting the needs of all parties. Dan and Chip Heath call this a “tripwire” in their book, Decisive.

Great Opportunity to Build Trust

Be open, patient, flexible, and communicative with your employees. This is more important now than ever before. When you hear them out, take time to consider, and then give them a straight yes or no and the thinking behind your decision, they will respect you. You can use this uncertain time in history to show you care about your employees, that you are there for them, and that they can trust you.

Do you have another best practice for remote workers? I’d love to hear! Drop me a note below in the comments!

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