Work from home image via Shutterstock
Credit: Letting employees work from home works best when there's a strong company culture.
Despite offering a full suite of products to help boost the productivity of employees who work from home, Hewlett-Packard's (HP) management is now telling company staff to do as it says, not as it does.
Earlier this month, All Things Digital released parts of an HP internal memo to employees that strongly encourages telecommuting employees to get back to the office.
"During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck," the memo read. "We recognize that in the past, we may have asked certain employees to work from home for various reasons. We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration, and the more employees we get into the office, the better company we will be."
Productivity and leadership expert Mary Kelly said HP's view on telecommuting suggests the company has a management problem or a cultural-integration problem.
"Either way, they are clearly not getting the results they want from their employees, or they are trying to create a perception for their shareholders that they are getting more from their employees," Kelly told BusinessNewsDaily.
While telecommuting options might be growing in popularity, HP is far from the only big-name company cutting back on flexibility. Last year, Yahoo eliminated its work-from-home program, while Best Buy cut employees' right to choose if they wanted to telecommute, instead putting those decisions in the hands of company managers.
Kelly recommended that businesses thinking about eliminating or cutting back telecommuting options should reconsider.
"Done right, telecommuting saves money, time and resources for both the company and the employee," Kelly said. "Telecommuting, even for a few days a week, can be a huge benefit to those employees who demonstrate that they are just as, if not more, effective working from home as they are at work."
Jon Eggleton, chief marketing officer for turnstone, which offers furniture solutions for small businesses, believes there is no clear-cut right or wrong telecommuting policy.
"Through our study of work, we've come to understand that every company is different and must design a work strategy unique to its challenges and culture," Eggleton said. "Companies of different sizes and different industries may approach remote-work policies differently."
For example, a small technology company with limited resources for things like office space and relocation fees may prefer to have employees stationed remotely, and may even view it as a competitive advantage in recruiting, Eggleton said. On the other hand, a large financial company may prefer to have employees in the office on a daily basis to collaborate and meet with clients.
"Whatever the situation, companies simply need to ensure that the policies make sense for the type of work employees are doing and align with the company's vision and goals," Eggleton said.
Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, said research has shown that both employers and employees see numerous benefits of working from home.
She points to studies from Stanford University and Pennsylvania State University that found telecommuting, flexible scheduling and results-only work environments increase productivity, reduce turnover and help companies save money, while employees benefit from reduced stress, better work-life balance and more overall satisfaction.
"All kinds of people want work flexibility — women, men, parents, millennials, retirees, freelancers, military spouses and many others — and for many different reasons," Fell said.
While the benefits of working from home are well documented, Eggleton said, it does have at least one downside: Employees who are separated from their teams may have a more difficult time building networks with co-workers and finding a sense of purpose within their work.
"These employees also lose the option to pull up a chair at a neighbor's desk and work through an idea that pops into their head," he said. "And while remote workers may not spend their days alone in a home office, there is an added value of being around people who understand your work."
Eggleton said any company considering instituting a telecommuting program needs to first make sure that type of policy fits in with what the company is trying to accomplish.
"Determining whether the right culture exists (or could exist with the proper commitment) for remote work is really the first step," Eggleton told BusinessNewsDaily in an email. "While the recent focus has been on remote workers themselves, the truth is that an environment where colleagues in the office every day support their remote brethren is critical."
Eggleton said this type of culture includes things like scheduling meetings with appropriate technology, like video-conferencing platforms, for those who are not physically present, as well as establishing frequent communication patterns so that remote workers do not become isolated.
"When these factors are present, any remote-work policy can become much more self-managed by those who are affected by it," Eggleton said.
Kelly believes it's important for employers to get trusted employees to help craft policies in order to get company wide buy-in.
"Make sure those selected employees are aware that this is a mutual benefit, and structure accountability," Kelly said.
She said the best telecommuting programs are those that have clearly articulated roles and responsibilities and that expect results out of their employees.
A new initiative aims to unify and amplify support for companies in favor of telecommuting and other flexible policies.
Created by Fell, 1 Million for Work Flexibility is a national coalition of individuals, companies and organizations that believe flexible work options benefit both employers and workers. Those involved include Working Mother magazine, Thomson Reuters, Mom Corps, the National Association for Female Executives, WorldatWork and UnitedHealth Group.
As part of the new initiative, 1 Million for Work Flexibility is reaching out to workers who want flexible work options but aren't offered them.
"We are excited to provide a way for these individuals to show their support for work flexibility in a way that can make a positive difference for everyone," Fell said.
The group plans to offer ideas for people to get involved in promoting work flexibility, post the latest news and trends, showcase personal stories, and make it easier to get involved in local and national events, legislation, petitions and other efforts supporting the advancement of flexible work options.