Before you decide to work at home…

Think you want to work at home? Think you are ready to manage remote workers? Consider these articles first.

Image courtesy of Flickr {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

  • Inc. says employees want something difference in their office space. Something more flexible that can change as the work teams and projects change. This office’s design allows maximum flexibility. No more expensive wall tear-downs and painful packing up and moving whenever someone new comes in or a project is completed.
  • NPR’s recent report on curated coworking shows freelancers are flocking to shared workspaces. They estimate 30% of the workforce is working on their own. The trend is so prevalent that coworking spaces are becoming more selective. You might be screened out of a coworking space because you don’t work well with the others in the space, or you don’t add enough to the community they’re creating.
  • Then there’s this article about Twitter moving into a Detroit coworking space as a cost-effective growth strategy. Companies are anxious to grow but nervous. Not having dedicated office spaces are the ultimate in company flexibility.
  • According to Gallup’s research, you need to socialize for six hours a day. Coworking spaces provide a flexible opportunity to replace the corporate office with an equally important socialization method.

What this means for employees or candidates

Before you take the plunge, consider what being truly alone will be like over the long haul. Find some coworking spaces close to you and check them out. Talk to some of the folks there and see what their experiences were. Think through where else you’ll get that social connection. Are you active in your church, in your child’s PTA, in your Homeowner’s Association? Your interviewers won’t hire you if they don’t think you can handle it, but they can’t come right out and ask for fear of HR reprisals about getting too personal. If you want the job, you have to address it without being asked. Be careful not to get too personal here but let them know how you will manage the social side of working alone.

What this means for managers

If you are remotely managing someone who works from home, remember that having a friend at work is critical to employee engagement and employee engagement is the primary value that you bring to the company. (Gallup’s research here.) If your employees ask for a few days in a coworking space, don’t immediately cheap out and say no. Access to a coworking spaces can increase their engagement and potentially provide them with great back-up equipment if something goes wrong at home. Plus, it provides you with a unique network of other highly motivated, self-disciplined people. If you need a graphic designer for a quick one-time job, they may be sitting right next to your remote employee.

Related articles

(Curious side note. Why would WordPress’s spellcheck keep changing my “coworking” text to “cowering”!? Freudian. While that may be how many managers react when they hear the words “you’ll be managing this person remotely”, it does actually happen. Get with the times WordPress!)

Learning to Lead at a Distance

Ten years ago, I was put in charge of a new team of people. It was a small but growing company and I needed help. I interviewed dozens of people, selecting the “right” person was critical. It was a leadership job, lots of accountability but very little authority. I found a fantastic person who lived 700 miles away. She had great recommendations and a solid background in exactly the type of work I needed. Relocation was not an option for her. I turned her down. Obviously, at least to me, the position required someone local. Success would require significant cross-functional leadership which meant visibility. That kind of leadership just couldn’t be done remotely.

Less than a year later, my company merged with another one. I was given the opportunity to put the two departments together. They had a significant number of people working from their homes all over the country including the woman I’d turned away. Hers was one of the first calls I made but I didn’t make it fast enough. In a matter of hours she’d let everyone know they were in trouble, that I didn’t believe in the whole work-from-home thing.

That was a big wake-up call for me. I really didn’t believe it could be done without the face-time, but I couldn’t be successful without those people who were already working from home and I wasn’t going to disrupt their lives by making them all move. That first conference call took us hours to figure out and I actually don’t remember if we ever pulled it off with more than 3 people at a time. But my message was clear – I wanted them to prove me wrong. I was willing to do whatever it took to help them but they were going to have to tell me what that was. We were going to have to figure it out together.

Ten years later, that small 20 person department has grown to almost 100 people, 15 of whom come to the office most days. Many of the original folks are no longer with us but none left because of the remote arrangement. Other departments are joining us now and we joke that the building is turning into a ghost town. We are figuring it out. It hasn’t been easy and it’s not always been fun but we are figuring it out. This blog is an effort to share what we’ve learned and hopefully get some insight to the things we haven’t learned yet. I hope you’ll join us.


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