Five Questions to Ask About Working From Home Now
Working from home sounds great until you do it full-time. Occasional teleworking provides flexibility and avoids driving into an office. Teleworking full-time presents different challenges, and the pandemic gave many of us a chance to try it out.
After test-driving telework for a year, employees have mixed feelings. Some can’t wait to return to the office. Others want to work from home permanently. The rest of us fall somewhere between.
Despite bold policy announcements by a few high-profile technology companies, most employers plan a conservative return-to-work. If we want to telework, we should understand how, and not if, it might affect our careers. Teleworking is not a right, nor is it a protected job category. Anyone who teleworks is simply more out-of-mind than anyone in the office with their manager most days. Subconscious discrimination seems inevitable.
Unfortunately, most employers aren’t ready to provide strong assurances. We’ll need to look for guidance through their actions, behaviors, and policies.
Below are some questions to think about or ask employers, managers, and coworkers. They’ll also serve us well as we watch for warning signs that working from home may not be going as well as expected.
1. What are the requirements for telework?
In large organizations, the employer usually sets top-level requirements for working from home. Knowing these requirements gets at several issues we’re evaluating. If an employer thoroughly documents policies, it might indicate a strong commitment to the practice. Among many considerations are eligibility criteria, spelling out what type of job qualify, and which do not. Others include a range of options from full-time teleworking to using the practice only on occasion.
Most policies address technology requirements, such as high-speed Internet and a personal or dedicated telephone, and attributes of the home office environment. Most employers will also spell out restrictions. These may include not caring for a parent or child during work or working uninterrupted in a dedicated home office space.
Employers are under no obligation to offer a work-from-home option. We might need to sign a written agreement, which our employer can rescind at any time. If we commit to the practice of teleworking, we should ensure we meet or exceed all requirements and expectations while doing so.
2. How will I (and my work) be managed?
Managers often create unique processes to manage teleworkers since many haven’t done it before. Most enact day-to-day tasking, time accounting, time management, and other practices. They may require check-ins throughout the day, joining online meetings, being available on messaging systems, taking phone calls, making weekly reports, and more.
Individual managers also bring a range of attitudes as they interpret company policies. Many find comfort in seeing employees at their desks and dislike when employees work from home. Others are biased from past experiences, even if they don’t apply now. The resulting management practices may be too demanding for many would-be teleworkers. Many people decline telework after learning their managers’ expectations.
Most people agree that knowledge work should be managed by goals, objectives, and outcomes rather than hours worked. That remains idealistic, however. Many managers continue to monitor work by measuring time spent at desks. A few even implement electronic monitoring systems. Until managers develop better and more effective practices, employees will continue to complain about management oversight and feel they’re not trusted.
3. Who else will be teleworking?
Knowing who else teleworks in an organization is essential to understand how we fit in. The issue isn’t about blending in or giving in to peer pressure. Instead, we don’t stand out as unique or privileged if we are among many who also telework. We might expect fair treatment and consideration for job growth and advancement.
I always suggest starting with our managers’ choices. Managers who choose to telework might be more likely to accept the practice than those who don’t. Managers who insist on working in the office most days amid widespread telework might not embrace the approach despite the organization’s policies.
If we choose to telework, we will fit into some blend of three scenarios that raise different concerns. The most common situation is where most of our colleagues work in offices. A second involves most employees teleworking part of their time. The third is when our coworkers also work from home most of the time.
The devil is in the details. Employees might be on equal footing in the full-time teleworking organization. Hybrid organizations that support half-time teleworking also seem equitable if most employees and managers participate. In both situations, take note if some employees and their decision-making managers coordinate working days in the office. My eyebrows raise when workgroups split shifts to provide office coverage, leaving poor overlap between some employees and managers.
Choosing to telework while others report to offices will raise questions about job and career growth. Others may envy our work arrangements or feel we aren’t working as hard. At the same time, we may be disadvantaged if managers see others more often. We will need to develop a personal strategy to address workplace visibility issues.
4. How will my performance be managed?
Anyone wanting to grow in their job or career should understand how organizations manage employee performance. Positive reviews may lead to professional growth opportunities, promotions, and salary increases.
The human resource processes for performance management are often well-established. Most involve setting personal objectives that connect with higher-level organizational goals. They also likely include a formal evaluation where managers rate our performance against objectives and other criteria and possibly rank us among our coworkers.
We must understand how these processes apply differently to teleworkers before making irreversible commitments. The comments we made about how common teleworking is among employees and managers apply.
5. Will my compensation or other benefits be affected?
We need to address compensation for teleworkers. Informal surveys I’ve seen suggest that most employees believe an employer must pay teleworkers the same as those who work in offices. Nonetheless, what employers do is a different matter.
Among the benefits of teleworking that experts tout to employers is widespread, if not global, recruiting. Employers in areas with high living costs have historically paid employees more than those in less expensive regions. It stands to reason that teleworking might result in negative salary pressures that don’t manifest for years. There’s no way of knowing this in advance, but we can still ask our employers their plans and look for guidance in documented policies. Looking at new telework job openings posted by our employers and advertised salary ranges may give us some clue of what the future holds.
Answers to these five questions won’t provide us with all the information we need before committing to telework, but they’re a good start. The answers may trigger concerns that we choose to accept. Ultimately, we’ll have to make our decisions based on a wide range of facts that include our own short and long-term plans. Keeping our eyes and options open can help assure a long and successful teleworking career.
Thanks for reading!