When I became an HR person in 1984, every HR conference I attended included at least one session on Managing the Flexible Workforce.
Back in 1984, everyone who studied the workplace predicted that most white-collar employees would be working from home or somewhere else — the beach or a coffee shop, for instance — by now.
Thirty-three years later, the prediction that most white-collar employees would be working from home and/or making their own schedule has not come true.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 24% of employed people did some or all of their work from home on the days they worked in 2015.
With so much technology available to make remote work faster, less expensive and more effective, why is this number so low?
Some large organizations (including Yahoo! when CEO Marissa Mayer took the helm) have pulled their formerly-flexible-workforces back into the office.
Why would a company tell employees “You may no longer work from home — come back and work in the office”?
Office space is expensive.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, employers started realizing how expensive their office space was.
They started a practice called ‘hoteling’ where employees take an available workstation for the day when they are in the office, rather than having a fixed office or workstation of their own. Employers could cut down on office space that way.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper for most or all employers to let their white-collar, Knowledge Worker employees work from home?
It would be cheaper. Most of us grew up learning that business is the art of investing wisely, but sometimes emotions overpower financial decision-making in the business world.
The real reason you’re not allowed to work from home is that managers at all levels are fearful of change and especially fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone.
A leader whose employees work from home or from Starbucks has to trust their teammates. If the leader is fearful, the first way that fear will show itself is in the policies the leader hands down.
Leaders make their fear and trust levels clear in their words and even more so in their actions.
Leaders who cannot trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust will always revert to power and control mechanisms, including forcing people to drive a car or take a train to work every day so that their supervisors can keep an eye on them.
Those control mechanisms keep the leader’s fear at bay.
Managers often say “I need my employees here in the office! That’s where collaboration and teamwork spring up!”
In their hearts they know that collaboration and teamwork are things that spring up organically when people feel free to be themselves, and only then.
You will never get organic teamwork or collaboration out of people who are forced to be in a place they don’t want to be.
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The reason you’re not allowed to work from home is that fear grips the corporate and institutional landscape, and many leaders are afraid to trust their employees whenever they’re out of sight.
They may assume that an employee who’s working from home is watching TV soap operas and eating bon-bons instead of getting their work done.
That lack of trust in themselves is a failure of leadership, and it hurts communities and individuals as well as the organization’s own customers and shareholders.
Clearing roads and highways of morning and afternoon commuters would be good for the planet, as well as the physical and emotional health of commuters.
Allowing employees to work from home would give them better life/work balance, more chances to stretch during the day and a less hectic environment in which to have big ideas.
Your customers need and expect you to staff your organization with people who are charged-up and set free to accomplish great things.
Your customers would not approve of a leadership style that only trusts your own hand-picked employees when they are right in front of you!
It’s time to ease up on your fear and let your employees work from home. You can begin with a pilot project and expand your work-from-home options from there.
It is time to step out of managerial fear and trust the people you hired to run your company.
If you can’t trust the people you carefully vetted and selected from a group of qualified candidates, who can you trust?
If you don’t trust yourself to lead, why should any customer, employee or shareholder trust you?