We call it telecommuting when an employee works from home or works anywhere else other than the office. For some employees, it is a full-time thing and they come into the office only occasionally for big meetings or scheduled check-ins. For others, it’s working from home one or two days a week. And for many more, it’s an occasional day of working from home due to some family or health issue. So is letting your employees work from home a good thing?

Or not? Here are the key factors to help you decide.

The Company Culture

When an employee comes to you and asks to be allowed to work from home, the first thing to consider is the company culture. If the company prides itself on everyone being at their desk and hard at work when the bell rings at 8 AM, telecommuting is going to be a tough sell. At the other extreme, I’ve known many start-ups that don’t have an office for the employees to go to. Everyone telecommutes. The vast majority of companies fall in between.

The vast majority of companies fall in between. If your company’s culture is more focused on attendance than performance, you will need a pretty strong case to allow someone to work from home, but it can be done. If your company culture is more relaxed on attendance and more focused on results, it will be easier to approve a request to telecommute.

Even within a company, different departments have different requirements. The Sales Department may be more open to letting employees work remotely because they have little contact with other employees and those contacts can be handled by email or phone.

Some companies create special green zones where employees can spend some time and relieve stress. It is strange, but workers believe that changing a kind of activity can influence productivity in a positive way. So when employees harvest radishes, they free their minds for creativity and new solutions.

The Design Department may be more insistent on having people in the office because the nature of their work is so collaborative.

The Job Requirements

As mentioned above, outside salespeople have a pretty solitary job. They spend all day out of the office visiting customers or prospective customers. They call into the office or send an email if they have a problem and submit their reports. Their job doesn’t require that they be in the office except for certain occasional events.

A customer service representative, on the other hand, spends all day on the phone, in front of a computer, taking calls from customers. While some companies are configured so the customer service representatives can work remotely using their own or company-supplied equipment, most companies want more control of that and so they keep the function in-house. People in these jobs are unlikely to get approved to work from home.

Things to consider about the job:

  • Does the employee need special or expensive equipment? – Office
  • Does the employee work independently most of the time? – Telecommute
  • Does the employee need to work closely with other employees? – Office
  • Does the employee need to be in a location so customers can find them? – Office
  • Does the employee need to be able to concentrate and limit distractions? – Either, but telecommuting may be better.
  • Does the employee manage other people? – Office. Even when the people they manage are in different office locations or telecommuting, the manager needs to be in an expected location.

The Team

Another aspect to consider is how the team will react to having one of its members telecommute and not be with the team. Will it be perceived as undue favoritism or will they recognize that it’s appropriate for that individual? Is telecommuting an option that is open to all members of the team, even if some choose not to do it? If so, there may be less resistance to letting an employee telecommute. This is not a major consideration in your decision about whether or not to allow an employee to work from home, but it is one you should at least consider.

The Person

Arguably the biggest factor in your decision of whether to let an employee telecommute is the character of the employee. Think about how you would describe the employee to another manager. Would you call him or her dependable, performance-focused, a good communicator? They probably are a good candidate for telecommuting. If you would describe them as “a little bit of a flake” or “I never know what that clown is up to” then you probably don’t want to consider them for telecommuting.

One big factor is their judgment. Are they smart enough, experienced enough, to know when they are in trouble and need to reach out for help? Remember, if they telecommute you won’t be around as much to keep an eye on them and spot the early signs of trouble. You’re going to have to depend on them to let you know.

Bottom Line

Working from home can be an effective alternative, either full or part-time. Just be sure to evaluate the company culture, job requirements, and the character of the employees when making your decision.