Office Decorating


Dear, Anita,

Our company is moving our offices from our cramped location to a spacious new building. I guess because I am one of the few women in the office, somehow I am now in charge of decorating the new space. I have to pick carpet, paint colors, furniture – and I’m no decorator! The only direction I’ve received from my boss is to choose a color scheme that is relaxing since we are in a high-stress business. Do you have any advice?

Dear, De Facto Designer,

Take a deep breath… but not near the paint fumes! We spend approximately 40 hours a week – sometimes more – in our work environment. Office surroundings can influence our business’s image and our employees’ productivity.

blue modern office spaceColor
As a general rule, cool tones – blues and greens – are more calming. Blue and gray have the benefit of improving productivity… but I don’t advocate a drab prison palette. (Interesting side note: In the 1970s, it was discovered that pink reduced aggression, so a few correctional facilities experimented with rosy walls!) While financial services companies and law offices tend to keep their palettes more conservative and neutral – beige,  tan, taupe, cream – creative industries can get away with adding bigger splashes of brighter hues.  Hot colors – red, orange, bright yellow – are more stimulating, but beware of overdoing any strong color. Your company’s logo and branding should also play into the office color scheme. To explore more about the psychology of color, check out the Demesne site.  To read about NASA’s color research on color in office environments, check out this interesting link: http://www.informedesign.org/_news/jan_v05r-p.pdf. And keep in mind, the way a color looks on a chip in the hardware store could change dramatically in your office light.

Lighting
Proper lighting to perform tasks is essential to any office.  Fluorescent lights can be harsh; have you ever noticed that unbecoming green cast to your skin in a phosphorescent fitting room? You may not have much choice, as overhead fluorescent lighting is still widespread in office buildings, so adjust your make-up accordingly. Augment overhead lights with task lighting – adjustable desk lamps positioned behind or pointed away from computers to avoid screen glare.  Natural light is highly valued by employees, but be sure to position your computer to avoid reflections from windows. Stuck in the cubicle farm? Consider a full spectrum sunlight desk lamp so you won’t get SAD.

BlindsWindow Treatments
Desks positioned by east, south, or west facing windows may heat up for a portion of the day. Shutters are an elegant but pricey option to control light, hide unsightly views of the neighbor’s dumpster, or maintain privacy. Horizontal blinds, cellular shades, or solar roller shade options are available in every budget range. Vertical blinds are best suited for taller windows and sliding doors.

Furnishings
Form follows function when it comes to office furniture. The type of computers, number of monitors, and amount of file storage may dictate your desk selection. Clutter may lead to stress, so be sure that employees have enough storage space for their needs. Keep ergonomic issues in mind when arranging offices and cubicles.

Light deskGenerally, the darker the wood, the more visual “weight” the furniture has. Massive mahogany desks quietly announce importance and professionalism, while light maple with stainless steel may indicate a more modern, youthful vibe.

Carpet
While hardwood floors are sought after in our homes, carpet is king in offices, primarily because of the sound absorption benefit. I like to keep the carpet a multi-toned neutral – it helps hide dirt! You can always bring in color on accent walls and with artwork.  Be sure to select a commercial grade stain-resistant option. Carpet tiles may cost more up front, but you can replace one or two damaged or stained tiles rather than an entire office, saving money in the long run.

Extras
Think beyond motivational posters when choosing art for the walls. Perhaps someone in your company is a great artist, or knows one. A plant or greenery can be a nice addition… as long as someone remembers to water it. If you go the route of a faux plant, be sure to keep it dusted. My dream office would have a calming aquarium, but who would feed the fish on the weekends?

Readers: What would you change about your office decor?

 

Make Team-Building a Picnic


Dear, Anita,

After years of coming up with team-building activities for our company’s annual summer picnic, I’m brain-dead. Do you have any new, creative ideas?

Dear, Rah-Rah-Rachel,

Tired of trust falls, huh? This video from Outrageous Games includes the traditional sack race and water balloon toss, but has a few unique twists on company picnic favorites.  I particularly like the different interpretation of a “soapbox derby” and the race with participants wearing swim fins.

Here’s a twist on the three-legged race – a team-building caterpillar game (although this video is uploaded from the Netherlands, it doesn’t really need a translated explanation):

Spend a little time browsing for ideas on YouTube, but be forewarned – you’ll likely run across some LOL moments, so you may want to close your office door.

Perhaps a theme could jump-start your creativity. I could “arrr-gue” for a pirate motif (even though International Talk Like a Pirate Day isn’t officially until September).  Think of all the activities you could do with a rope at a western-themed picnic.  With a carnival concept, adapt traditional fair games into team trials. Or bring your three-ring circus out of your office; you’ll need to find a venue or event company to facilitate employees getting out of their comfort zone by walking a tightrope or swinging on a trapeze.  Businesspeople playing tug of war outdoors.Wacky staff Olympic Games can promote teamwork with events like pool-noodle javelins, Nerf archery, tricycle races on the grass, or creating a landlubbing synchronized “swimming” routine (remember to bring a video camera!). If you host the summer games on a beach, there is an added level of difficulty slogging through the sand.

I’m a fan of the TV show The Amazing Race. You could create a team scavenger hunt in your city with silly “pit stop” and “road block” challenges along the way. BONUS: You can get your company name out in the community when you cooperate with local businesses to hide items or host challenges at their locations. Survivor is another show that can be adapted if you flip the objective to keeping teams together rather than voting someone off the island. Maybe winners of the “immunity challenges” could receive a break from an onerous task back at the office next week.

Send me an invitation, will you?

Readers: Tell us about the most convivial activity at one of your company picnics.

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Advice from Dad


Dear, Readers,

This touching car commercial shows a dad teaching his daughter a valuable lesson in self-reliance. “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst” is an axiom that all of us can also apply on the job.

In honor of Father’s Day, let’s take a look at some other lessons and advice from dear old dad and their application in the world of work.

“When I was your age, I had to walk (insert large number here) miles to school.” It’s helpful to keep your business’s roots in mind, particularly the values upon which it was founded.

“If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” By the same token, don’t just settle for business as usual. Constantly innovate and do things differently.

Tie“How will you know if you don’t try?” While this may have applied to tasting your peas as a toddler, develop a business culture where employees are not penalized for trying (and possibly failing with) new ideas.

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Mister.” Really? Your great-aunt died… again? You may think your employer just fell off the turnip truck, but I wouldn’t recommend using these excuses for a day off work: http://business.time.com/2012/10/30/funniest-excuses-for-missing-work/

“There are starving people in Africa who would gladly eat your dinner.” Substitute “starving” with “jobless,” “Africa” with “America,” and “eat your dinner” with “do your job.”

 “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” When you, in your teenage invincibility, overloaded your schedule with school, sports, and extracurricular activities, your wise father figure knew that you could only handle the pace for a limited time. Just so on the job.

“No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ” Maybe it was your much older grandfather, with the benefit of hindsight, who reminds you of the need for a work-life balance.

On the flip side, do NOT use these fatherly expressions in business situations:

  • “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” While it’s true that if you hired someone, you can indeed fire them, reigning with fear won’t endear you to your employees.
  • “This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me.” When you are letting someone go, it really is going to hurt them more.
  • “You’ll live.” A little compassion when your direct report complains about aches and pains will make you a more well-liked manager.
  • “Because I said so.” A few words of explanation will help your employee understand the importance of a procedure, rule, or task.

Readers: What piece of fatherly advice have you been able to translate to the work world? Don’t remember? Go ask your mother.

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

The Importance of Vacations


Dear, Anita,

In our company culture, while vacations are not exactly frowned upon, you are expected to “check in” while taking your time off. I’m tempted to book an international cruise just because my employer wouldn’t want to reimburse me for the difficult and costly Internet access! How can I convince my boss that a 100% non-working vacation is my right?

Dear, Time for a Vacation,

Vacation_InfographicI’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the United States is the only developed country in the world without legally required paid vacation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is no federal law requiring employers to offer paid vacation time. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that many industrialized nations offer mandated paid vacation and holidays ranging from 10 to 38 days! France leads the pack with 30 paid vacation days and one paid holiday. Austria offers 25 paid vacation days plus 13 paid holidays. Even the hard-working Japanese are entitled to 10 paid vacation days per year. (I think it’s time to write your Congressperson.)

In the U.S., paid vacation time off is a benefit, not a right. Granted, it is a very popular benefit; a recent survey by Glassdoor indicates that 78% of employees receive vacation or paid time off.

That being said, if your employer does offer paid vacation, here’s some ammunition to encourage a clean break. Vacations can make workers more productive. The Oxford Economics February 2014 study, “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.,” cites statistics that 48% of managers viewed the impact of time off on productivity as positive. Further, managers believe employees who take time off have an improved attitude and better performance at work. A study conducted by former NASA scientists for Air New Zealand found that there is an 82 percent spike in performance among those who’ve just returned from vacation. In a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)/U.S. Travel Association study, a large majority of HR professionals think taking vacation is extremely or very important for performance, morale, wellness, a positive culture, productivity, retention, and creativity. Forbes reports that “job-related stress contributes to absenteeism, lost productivity, and health issues, and these factors cost businesses approximately $344 billion annually.” Vacations can neutralize job-related stress.

Happy workers stay longer at their jobs. The American Management Association reports that the estimated cost of replacing employees ranges from 25% of their salary to five times their salary. Why not keep the workers you have? In its ranking of work-life balance, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the United States ranks 25 out of 36 countries (with Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway in the top three spots).

 

 

Tips for Leaving On Vacation

  • Don’t schedule your vacation during the busiest season in your company. That won’t go over well.
  • Give your employer as much notice as possible, right after you click the “Book Now” button on that travel site.
  • Negotiate how often you will check emails or voicemail. If you’re only expecting one important email midweek, offer to respond on that project only. If your boss wants more input, check your phone or email once a day.
  • Try to get as much of your work done before you leave so you only have to delegate a few tasks to co-workers.
  • Set up a meeting with the person who is covering you to go over last-minute instructions.
  • Give your contact information to one gatekeeper, preferably your boss or your coverage person.
  • Don’t forget to change your outgoing phone message and set up an out of office automatic reply for your emails.
  • Finally, enjoy yourself and come back to work refreshed!

 

Online Reputation Monitoring


Dear, Anita,

I’m a hiring manager at a company, and I would like to let people know that many HR professionals routinely screen applicants online, checking out not just LinkedIn but Facebook, Twitter, and Google searches. You’d be shocked and amazed at some of the things I’ve seen about job candidates! I don’t have a question; I just think job seekers should be aware of this.

Dear, Undercover Recruiter,

Eye on Computer MonitorThank you for the reminder. Readers, your social (media) life could be killing your career. Every tweet, post, hashtag, comment, profile, and photo on the Internet is adding to or detracting from your online reputation. According to a recent CareerBuilder study, 43 percent of hiring managers who researched candidates via social media found something that caused them not to hire an individual. The top no-nos: posting provocative/inappropriate photos (50%), discussing drinking/drug use (48%), and badmouthing a previous employer (33%). Even if you don’t have half-naked photos of yourself online, something as innocuous as typos in your posts could reflect poorly on you.

Here’s how to manage your online reputation.

Google yourself. Note that some browsers may save information about you, so search from a public computer to be sure you’re getting the same results a potential employer will see. Check all of your name variations (Richard, Dick, etc.), but especially the one you use on your résumé.

Beware of online doppelgangers. If another person with your same name has a poor reputation, be prepared to combat this. If this person has a criminal record, paying a reputation management firm may be the answer. Sign up for Google Alerts with your name to be sure that you’re aware of any news stories about murderers, child molesters, and the like who a potential employer could confuse with you. Another way to contend with the doppelganger effect is to purchase a web domain of your name (if available). On your own website, you can create links to your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts and include this URL in your cover letter and resume.

Post judiciously. We tell teenagers not to post anything they wouldn’t want Grandma – or Miss Anita! – to see. Now that you’re all grown up, don’t post anything you would want a potential employer to see (review the top three faux pas in the first paragraph). Avoid oversharing (TMI!). Mind what groups you join. Even your extreme political views or a preponderance of snarky comments may have an adverse effect on your career. And let’s hash over #hashtags; don’t post #myjobsucks, #drinktilyoudrop, or anything similar. If you really must have a salty social media record of your shenanigans, you may want to create a separate account under a pseudonym.

Change your privacy settings. Check your Facebook settings to make sure that all of your personal posts are not “Public.” Watch what your friends post, too. Enable timeline and tagging review so that you can approve (or not) your buddies’ ill-conceived tags and posts before they hit your wall. Protect your tweets on Twitter to approve the people who may view your 140-character gems. Consider making your Instagram, Tumblr, and Flickr photos private. Use Secret Boards on Pinterest for your more risqué pins, or go to your settings and change the Search Privacy under your Basic Information. Since LinkedIn is basically Facebook for the job world, it may be an exception to my stringent privacy rules. However, be careful not to connect with people you really do not know. And if you want to keep your new job search on the QT, here are some LinkedIn privacy tips from InformationWeek.

Unwanted content still showing up in a search? Do what companies concerned about their SEO do: bury it. New content will push the old mistakes further down the search list. And, really, how many times have you gone to page 3 or 4 of the search results?

Establish credibility and visibility. Use a blog to make yourself an expert in your field. Your blog will be an asset that will follow you from job to job. Post comments and share articles on LinkedIn groups. Even if you don’t have a doppelganger to worry about, consider creating your own personal website with professional content. Post in the comments below if you’d like me to devote an upcoming blog post to the subject of creating your own personal brand website and blog.

Readers: How do you handle the privacy settings on your social media accounts?

Eight Ways to Instill a Work Ethic in Your Children


Dear, Anita,

I’m trying to convince my 13-year-old son to come to my office on “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” day this year. He just doesn’t seem interested (in fact, he barely looks up from his important texting whenever I bring up the subject). I know it’s early for him to choose a career, but I would like him to know a little about the business world, as well as where the food on our table comes from! Any advice on how to prepare him for future employment?

Lemonade StandDear, Fathering Greatness,

I remember when this event was started in 1993 by Ms. Foundation (it was originally called “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” back then; sons have been included since 2003). It’s a great opportunity to under­stand what Mom or Dad does all day, which, for a kid, is usually a pretty vague concept. This year’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 24, 2014. For more information about activities
or resources, check out the Foundation’s web page.

I took an unscientific poll of hard-working individuals I know and combined that with an ad hoc degree in parenting to come up with a few words of wisdom on raising future professionals:

1)  Insist on Respect. I love to see parents teaching their children to introduce themselves to adults with a handshake and eye contact. I would request that your son look at you when you are speaking to him. (Hey, you asked for my advice!) During teenage years especially, you may butt heads. In the future, your kids will certainly work with a few difficult people. Teach them to disagree agreeably.

2)  Chores. Helping at home as part of a family “team” will teach your child to pull his or her weight in a future workplace. In their future career, they will steadily get added responsibility, so graduate children from one age-appropriate chore to the next. One of my colleagues subscribes to this philosophy, “Just like mom and dad have a job, their job is to go to school and learn.” Report cards are their quarterly reviews! Working toward a college education was highly valued, whether from a high-achieving degreed parent or a mom who survived hardships and wanted her daughters to be self-sufficient.

3)  Praise the Effort. It’s important not to quash a child’s spirit by being overly critical, especially when they are younger.  Be sure to give clear instructions (bosses, are you listening?) and then give positive reinforcement for a task’s completion, even if it is not perfect. I’ve read that 10 compliments to one correction ratio is a good rule of thumb.

4)  Encourage Improvement. After you commend your offspring’s endeavor, offer some constructive advice. One colleague remembers her parents saying “do more than the minimum.” As she got older, they advised her to dress for the job a level above hers. Develop an “always improving” mentality.

5)  Rewards. You work for a paycheck, so pay your kids for their work. Whether you give an allowance, “incentivize” good grades, or create extra pay-for-hire chores, it’s great real-world experience to earn, handle, and budget money.  You can decide whether your kids’ earnings should go for necessities (clothing, cell phone, hair gel) or extras. One colleague remembers asking his dad for a baseball glove. The response: “You got money for that?”

6)  Let Them Solve Problems. Don’t always jump in to save the day when your child is having difficulties. One young director’s parents instilled that idea the “reward” was the success of the endeavor and the feeling of accomplishment – something money can’t buy.

7)  Delayed Gratification. In the age where instant texts have replaced letters to pen pals, it may be hard for the up-and-coming generation to get practice at delayed gratification. As kids get older, encourage larger projects that call for persistence, like starting a vegetable garden or earning scouting badges. Opening a bank account so she could watch her earnings accumulate was empowering for one industrious manager.

8)  Be a Role Model. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While many teenagers go through a slothful phase (you sometimes wonder if they’ll ever become a productive member of society!), if you are diligent at work and at home, your children will notice.

Don’t expect the school system alone to make your children employable. Do your part to set your kids up for future success in the world of work.

Readers: What was the best work or job advice you ever got from your parents?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 2


Dear, Readers,

Last week, Wrong Wavelength wrote in about a misunderstood email she sent to her supervisor. Follow my 10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications to keep you out of hot water. Review Commandments 1-5 here.

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: http://www.masalatime.com

6. Avoid ambiguity. For example, you write, “We’re losing sales on our XYZ product. I wonder what our competitors are charging.” Does that mean you want the recipient to research the competitors’ prices? Make sure you are not asking rhetorical questions in email (“Why don’t you… ?”). If you are taking excessive care not to offend, the recipient may not even notice the constructive criticisms couched in our communiqués. A phrase like “There’s a problem with …” or a polite instruction like “Could you please correct… ?” is more to the point. If you’re giving bad news, use simple, sympathetic language, like “I’m afraid…”

7. Ditch the demands. On the opposite end of the beating around the bush is coming across as hard-nosed. Instead of “I want you to explain ABC,” it’s better to say, “We need to discuss ABC.” Common courtesy goes a long way.  Even an innocuous reply of “Fine” is subject to interpretation. Revisit drama class and read that one word with the following emotions: angry, happy, satisfied, bored, and exasperated. To be safe, add a few extra words (“That sounds fine to me”) or rephrase.

8. Add a little emotion.  Even at work, show a little feeling with your words, from excitement to sympathy. While trying to motivate, though, don’t overdo the exclamation points. One per paragraph is my rule of thumb. It’s my opinion that adding emoticons to internal (non-client) emails is acceptable – in moderation. But don’t think that adding a wink makes it okay to forward that off-color joke.

9. Use your CC wisely. While it’s important for anyone with “need to know” status to be included in the information loop, use the CC wisely so as not to inundate your co-workers with unnecessary emails. If you are reprimanding someone in a CCed email, the whole department (usually) does not have to know about it. Likewise, if you are the person to respond to an email with a lot of people CCed, consider whether or not they need to be included on the response. Don’t just hit “Reply” when “Reply to All” is more appropriate. It’s frustrating for the originator of the email to have to keep adding the CCed recipients back in every time the conversation shifts back and forth.

10. Reply thoroughly. My personal pet peeve is sending an email with multiple questions and getting a response to only one. When writing the original email, if you number your questions, you’ll have a better chance of getting all of them answered.

Before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email. Read it aloud in your head in the opposite tone you intend (say, sarcastic or angry for most business email). You may be surprised at how your innocent email could be taken the wrong way by a colleague. If you just can’t get the tone right, pick up the phone for a 38% better chance of being understood.

Readers: Have you ever had one of your emails misunderstood? Feel free to post your example in the comments!

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1


Dear, Anita,

I work remotely and sent this email to my boss. He got very upset and I don’t know why.

Hi [Boss], I haven’t been successful reaching you by phone, so I’ll try email instead. Could you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project] that I requested last week?

I almost lost my job because he said I was being insubordinate. What do you think, Anita? Did I do anything wrong?

Dear, Wrong Wavelength,

I recently had a text message misunderstanding with a family member, so your question really hits home. It sounds like you accidentally offended your boss when you insinuated (in his mind) that he does not return phone calls and unprofessionally ignores requests.

Albert Mehrabian, a 1960s researcher, found that communication is 7 percent verbal (words), 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in electronic communications, it’s no wonder there are so many crossed wires!

To avoid misunderstandings – or worse, offense – keep my Ten Commandments of Email Communication in mind. We’ll start with five this week, and bring the second electronic stone tablet next week.

1. Keep it short. Nobody has time for long rambling emails, and you may lose your audience before you get to the point. Summarize briefly, while still relaying relevant information. Use attachments to supplement your email outline.

Lets_Eat_Grandma_Save_Lives_Meme2. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple mistake could change your message dramatically – especially for poor grandma.

3. Be clear and avoid double negatives. Look at this muddle with a quadruple negative: “Unless you fail to inform us in advance of your inability to attend the training event, you will not be billed for those presentations which you cannot avoid missing.” Will I or won’t I be charged for the event if I don’t cancel?

4. Be specific. If you add a comment or opinion about a statement in an email, make sure it’s clear which point you are remarking on. Sometimes, it is helpful to respond under each statement or question, and change the text color of your responses.

5. Be careful with humor. Your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm may just come across as just plain mean when not accompanied by your charming smirk. Electronic joking is best employed with co-workers you know quite well.

Stay tuned for email commandments 6 through 10 next week!

Readers: Here’s a fun challenge for you! Rewrite the email excerpt in Wrong Wavelength’s question to improve the tone and avoid misunderstandings. Post your best rephrasing by leaving a reply in the comments.

Top 10 Attitudes Employers Should Look For


Dear, Anita,

I’m currently looking for a key staff member. I have several résumés that are pretty equal as far as skill sets are concerned. How do I decide among a handful of qualified candidates?

Dear, Analysis Paralysis,

More and more employers are realizing that you should “hire for attitude, then train for skill.” The maxim is credited to Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines. When Kelleher became chairman in 1978, he placed humor at the top of his hiring criteria, and more than 30 years later, you can see that prized attitude in this Southwest steward:

According to my friends at the Power Training Institute, here are the 10 attitudes employers should look for in a star performer:

1. Find a learner who consistently wants to improve and grow.

2. Hire a listener who will talk only after they’ve listened first.

3. Employ a solver who does not just see problems, but finds solutions.

4. Discover an appreciator who will thank and encourage others.

5. Find a communicator who will speak effectively, not just someone who likes to talk.

6. Appoint a thinker who always searches for better, more efficient ways to do things.

7. Hire a planner who can set and meet deadlines.

Team Player

8. Select a motivator who has enthusiasm that will influence others.

9. Employ a team player who can work well with others.

10. Find an acceptor who takes responsibility for their own results.

Nordstrom’s is another company that hires for character. “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell,” Bruce Nordstrom says, “but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.” While you should not throw out the skill requirements when hiring for every position (brain surgery comes to mind), you can hire better employees when you take their mental outlook into account.

Managers: Would you rather have a more skilled employee or one with a can-do attitude?

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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Is Telecommuting Right for You and Your Company? Part 2


Dear, Anita,

I manage a department of 12. One of my employees is pregnant and wants to work from home – permanently – after the baby arrives. I’m concerned that this first-time mother is not being realistic about getting work done with an infant around. She’s a great worker and I don’t want to lose her. How can I decide whether to allow her to telecommute? If we do permit her to work from home, I feel like we will need new company policies, as other employees may want to work virtually as well. Any advice?

Dear, Doubting Thomas,

Last year, Yahoo! announced that all remote employees would need to come back to work in corporate offices. While telecommuting wasn’t working for Yahoo!, your company may be a different story.  In last week’s blog, we looked at telecommuting from an employee’s point of view (see Part 1).  Now, let’s contemplate the pros and cons from a manager’s mindset.

PROS

Increased Productivity. While not a given, many virtual employees and their supervisors notice an increase in productivity because they don’t have the typical office interruptions. Plus, there’s no time suck around the water cooler!

Flexible Schedules. While this sounds like a pro for the employee, it can also be a benefit to the employer. You may have a night owl, who can take a 5 p.m. e-mail from you and have a report back in your in-box by 8 a.m.

Working from home with a babyHappier Employees. Work-life balance is a key factor in job satisfaction. And who wouldn’t be in a better mood when the commute is down the hall and not down the bumper-to-bumper freeway?

Employee Retention. See above.

Top Talent. In the future, your company may be able to recruit by skill rather than by geographic location.

Reduced Overhead. While your company may not realize cost savings until it has many more virtual workers, some businesses note a decrease in real estate, infrastructure, HVAC, and electricity costs.

Decreased Carbon Footprint. If your business is interested in its environmental impact, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) confirmed that the fuel savings more than compensate for the extra emissions from home-based offices.

No Snow Days. Virtual employees can still work during a polar vortex (assuming, of course, they don’t lose power)!

CONS

Equipment Costs. Computer, phone, high-speed Internet connection, printer – to set up a home office without stripping your company’s desks bare can be costly.

Long-Distance Tech Support. What happens when the power goes out or the Internet goes down at an employee’s home office? It may be harder for your IT department to deal with remote technical problems.

Supervision. It’s easy to be “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” when you aren’t walking by employees’ desks daily. Use random calls and e-mails to make sure the off-site employees are hard at work, until they’ve built up trust.

Communication. With so many videoconferencing and high-tech ways to stay in touch, I hesitate to include this on the “con” list. After all, how much time do you really spend interacting face-to-face (and not leaving an e-mail trail) with co-workers? Facetime or Skype meetings are beneficial. Perhaps regularly scheduled in-office days are necessary, or a combination of both teleconferencing and on-site presence.

Slacking. Make sure the deadlines for deliverables don’t slip. Of course, everyone is human and misses a target date on occasion. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Self-motivated, disciplined individuals are the best candidates for virtual workers.

Creating/Maintaining Teams.  With this employee, you’ve had the advantage of previous face-to-face interaction, feedback, and mentoring. But creating teamwork and maintaining the corporate culture with new hires may be tricky.

If the pros outweigh the cons, give your new mom a telecommuting trial of 30, 60, or 90 days beyond her maternity leave. At that time, evaluate if the arrangement is working or whether you really do need her position to work within the office environment. Also, continue the check-ins at periodic intervals. Working at home with a three-month-old is far different than with a crawling six-month-old. What works at first may not work in the long-term.

Supervisors, do you have any tips to share for managing virtual workers?

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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