There are many reasons for a company of any size to review opportunities for its employees to work at remote locations or virtually. However, there are just as many that prohibit a company from reviewing and accepting these types of arrangements.
In this series, we will examine the upside of these arrangements, how they give a competitive advantage, and the underpinnings of why companies are reluctant to implement them.
Many of the opportunities to be discussed will be supported by a late 2007 study of companies in Post-Katrina New Orleans conducted by Sumner Grace. Most of the practices deployed were done so by companies that did not have strong, or any, policies in place for virtual work. The ideas, and its implementation, allowed companies large and small, to recover quickly in an area that was destroyed.
The major themes we will examine are:
- Reduction of sick time and risk to your workforce
- Business continuity and recovery planning
- Reduction of overhead cost and a green initiative
- Talent acquisition and retention strategy
- The key hurdles to implementing a sound policy and practice
Each year, employers lose millions of dollars in sick leave -- a higher percentage of that loss correlating to flu season. Paid or unpaid, there is lost productivity, disruption to customers and service delivery, as well as an unintended consequence -- employees who want to tough it out infecting others.
While I'm not going to focus on H1N1, this latest flu strain has brought to the forefront the argument that if you're sick, you need to stay home. For years, I, like so many others, thought that I could not miss work, and it was a badge of courage to be working while looking like I was on my death bed. (As an aside, I always had paid time off, so the impetus to work was not fear of loss of pay, which, unfortunately, is the case for many.) What I failed to realize was the risk of exposure to the rest of the office, customers, and others I came into contact with during my sickness.
More than a decade ago my wife was employed with State Farm at one of their larger facilities. They had a policy to stay home when ill, and upon return from a two-day or more absence, report to the on-site medical staff for clearance to return to work -- a progressive policy that protected the employee base and reduced the cost of illness by eliminating, or at least containing, exposure.
Today, we find notices in our children's fliers from school, church bulletins, and other mainstream communications that if you feel stick, stay home!
What we all know to be true is that our drive to still complete our tasks tends to overshadow our common sense of how we feel. However, technology has placed a tremendous opportunity in front of us to leverage our workforce in remote engagements. The Internet, voice mail/call forwarding, cell phones, and a myriad of other gadgets, gizmos, and infrastructure allow those who don't need direct face-to-face contact with customers and other employees to work from wherever, whenever.
The positive effects of a two-fold policy (stay home when sick; be allowed to work from home when not feeling 100 percent) are many:
- It allows employees to recover, potentially more quickly, while not infecting the workplace.
- It continues, to some degree, the productivity of that employee.
- It allows you to assess the overall impact of the loss of an individual or skill type on an abbreviated schedule to design a wider virtual employment outlook.
- It creates an opportunity to understand the characteristics of employees that can be productive remotely.
- It enhances your employment brand.
I can hear many of you, as you read this, stating many of the arguments that are common response:
- It's greedy and selfish of the company to expect you to work from home when you're sick.
- How can I trust that the employees are really working?
- If I am supposed to be home sick, why work?
- We cannot afford to let employees work from home.
- What about those employees that cannot perform work from home?
We will examine the hurdles and arguments later in this series, so keep the skepticism alive, and let's debate that at the end.
For now, you will want to review what areas of the company do not have a need for direct, person-to-person interaction with other employees or customers. In parallel, review your absenteeism policy with HR and business leaders, as well as system access with IT. This will begin your options to creating an environment of virtual employment.
This post was written by Doug Lubin, a successful Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) Practice Leader and Consultant, who brings over a decade of expertise building sustainable solutions for clients and partners. Doug helps firms develop high performing talent acquisition and management strategies locally and globally. Learn more about Doug.