I am in the thick of the Pope mayhem this week living in the Washington, DC area, which is the Pope’s first stop on his US tour. As of a few weeks ago, there was a ton of coverage on how his visit will impact the area and our commutes. One headline read, “Seriously, You Should Not Drive When the Pope Is Here.” Our city shuts down at the sight of one snowflake, so you can imagine the frenzy this has created in terms of being on the roads. Not to mention, we are ranked as having the WORST traffic in the country. While the Pope visiting our nation’s capital is an attraction for many, it doesn’t mean that the daily lives of residents come to a hault. Many companies opted to allow their employees to work from home during the visit to avoid unnecessary traffic.

I work from home most days as we are a remote company, and I’ve worked in the consulting industry long enough, so this is nothing new to me. However, in talking to friends who do work in an office every day, most complained about how their companies dragged their feet in letting them work from home. I was quite surprised to hear, given how easy it is to communicate in the absence of being physically present in the same office. I concluded that letting employees work from home has nothing to do with accessibility, but more to do with trust. It's a behavior change.

I’m not saying every organization should get rid of offices all together. They are crucial for collaboration and a lot can be accomplished through a face-to-face meeting or even in the lunch line. I’m advocating for the option and flexibility to work from home (where possible - I understand not all organizations can accommodate telecommuting such as highly secure or hard labor jobs). After all, according to Global Workplace Analytics, there are quite a few benefits to giving employees the option to telecommute:

  • 80% of employees consider telework a job perk
  • 36% would choose it over a pay raise
  • 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention
  • Over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their telecommuters

There’s also a positive environmental impact from allowing employees to work from home. Now that’s something even the Pope can support!

Here are some tips to strengthen the trust needed to give employees the option to work from home:

  1. Create a Policy/Guidelines: Having a defined policy around telecommuting gives employees guardrails to know what is/is not allowed when working from home. These don’t have to be extensive, just some simple guidelines to give necessary structure. For example, frequency (is it allowed once a week? month? as needed?), accessibility (how should people be accessible? through email? by phone?), or hours (is there a timeframe employees should be available?).
  2. Communicate the Policy/Guidelines: Obvious, right? Not always. I am calling out this step because it’s not just about telling employees that there is now a policy around telecommuting. It’s a great opportunity to showcase this perk and involve employees in the process. Maybe you roll it out with a test group of people and gather their feedback for larger consumption. This is a major change for some companies, so communication is key.
  3. Lead by Example: As babies, we learned by imitating and that quality doesn't disappear even as adults. If employees see you applying the policy and following the rules, they will too.
  4. Find the Right Technology: There is so much out there to make communication easy for remote workers. Aside from the obvious (phone, email, instant messenger), here are a few others that either we use at exaqueo or I’ve heard of:
    • Sococo: a virtual workspace that mimics the behaviors of a real office.
    • Teamwork or Basecamp: project management tools that make collaboration easy.
    • Stormboard: online brainstorming and collaboration
    • Yammer: it’s like Facebook but for work
    • Figure It Out: a Google chrome extension that let’s you see your team’s time zones
    • Evernote: a note-taking collaboration tool

Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research, and recruiting strategy offerings.

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