What if the biggest source of work stress for your employees came from outside the office?
Thirteen percent of Americans who participated in the Annual Work Stress Survey said their biggest stressor was the commute to and from work. The twice-daily commute is a relatively small part of our day: one, maybe two hours. With any luck, it’s less. The US Census Bureau puts the average one-way commute time at 26.1 minutes. That’s 52.2 minutes a day. Multiply it by five weekdays, and that brings us to 4.35 hours a week. We spend more time arguing with our families and watching TV.
So what’s the big deal?
Picture this. You wake up too early to feel rested, but not early enough to enjoy your morning routine. As you hurry through your tasks, you run into obstacles and delays. You fight, fight, fight to get to work on time. You start your workday frazzled and exhausted. Your mind is going a hundred miles an hour before you had your first meeting or answered a single phone call. You stumble through your unreasonable workload as best you can and rush home to pick up the kids or make that yoga class before your monthly pass expires. More obstacles and delays. More chores. Another late night. Another early morning. This is not a worst-case scenario. This is. Every. Single. Day.
According to the Annual Work Stress Survey, the commute is the second most common top cause of stress for Americans at work, beating unreasonable workload, annoying coworkers, poor work-life balance, career worries, a bad boss, poor working conditions, and even the fear of losing one’s job.
Another way to think about this is how many people miss their daily commute once they retire? They might miss their former coworkers, bosses, customers, job duties, and perks. They might even get nostalgic about things they used to whine about. But I have yet to find anyone who fondly recalls the mad rush to get his butt in the chair by 9 a.m.
Because even with the remote starter warming up our seat, the Starbucks brew in our cup holder, and the streaming audio over a hot set of speakers, our commute is pure stress. And I’m not just talking about the time we spend in the car, on the train, walking, running, or biking to the office. It starts the minute we wake up and stays with us all day.
If everything your employees need to do their jobs is a phone and a computer, you can make all that stress disappear. How? By letting them work from home in their pajamas.
To me, remote work is the future. Nothing else makes any sense. If you don’t trust your people to work remotely, they are probably not the best fit for the job, anyway. And if your systems don’t support remote work, they’re probably not the best systems.
Many companies and managers have a different opinion. Some have tried it and sworn it off; others are hesitant to give it a shot. I find two main types of arguments that give rise to fear of hiring remote employees.
The first has to do with oversight and control. It includes concerns about productivity, accountability, avoiding distractions, managing tasks, reliability, and retention. Of course, any employee can turn out to be unreliable or unproductive. We worry that the temptation will be stronger and our power to resist it will be weaker in our natural habitat. To eliminate any additional risk that comes with working from home, follow this rule:
Hire people who have worked remotely before.
Simple, right? And amazingly effective—especially when used with a well thought through and tested hiring scheme.
The second argument has to do with community and culture. It includes such issues as communication, work style, group cohesiveness, customer service standards, and other expectations. It’s hard to deny that daily face contact does something to marry teammates to one another. However, I have a magic bullet for this one, too. Ready?
Install and fully deploy a robust social intranet.
Being part of a team is more about your mind than your physical body. There’s a famous saying that true love is not two people looking at each other, but two people looking in the same direction. Looking in the same direction is what makes a team a team.
If your team does office work, most of the time they will be looking in the direction of their computer screens. The content of your intranet will determine the content of their minds. Your intranet is a perfect tool to instill such team values as transparency, communication, collaboration, professionalism, responsiveness, curiosity, learning, mentorship, camaraderie, gratitude, and pride in one’s work. Not only does the correct use of social features get the new employee acquainted with the team, but it also makes him or her feel connected and supported 24 hours a day—something all of us crave, regardless of our work setting.
By and large, the issues of working remotely are not new, but the same issues of employee selection, training, and engagement we face everywhere. We may think the new hire failed because of the unusual work arrangement, but we may overlook a million other factors that determine success.
When taking on a new employee, especially a remote one, think in advance how you will bring him or her into the team. I recommend a training and probation period during which the employee will be in frequent contact with his trainer and other team members. Encourage the new guy to ask any and all questions of anyone in the company. At the same time encourage your team to check in with him and offer help and advice. When hiring an independent contractor, test him or her on a small project before assigning major work.
If letting your people work remotely seems like a major decision, start with fool-proofing your policies and procedures and upgrading your systems. Once critical “checks and balances” and “culture” are encapsulated in your intranet and other internal systems, cutting people loose from the daily commute won’t feel so scary.
If you like foolproof policies and procedures, you might like my book, because it gives you examples of the best and the worst.