Should Your Business Allow People to Work From Home?

It's easy to see why bosses and business owners want people to come into the office. Being in the same place makes collaboration easier and it fosters communication. It also makes it easier for the boss to monitor when people arrive, when they leave, and what they're actually doing during the workday.

Working from home, however, has become something that potential employees consider when it's time to decide about taking a job. In fact, over a quarter of respondents (28%) on a recent survey said that they would take a lower-paying job if working from home at least some of the time was an option, and 41% called the ability to work remotely "very important."

In a tight labor market, offering the ability to work from home at least partially can be the difference between landing and not landing an employee. That's why it's important to figure out if it's an option you can offer.

Consider your business

If you run a store, then your cashiers and floor help can't work remotely. Back-office people, however, may be able to do so. The same logic applies to restaurants and any other customer-facing business.

Office-based businesses, however, generally have more positions in which employees only interact with coworkers, and most customer interaction they conduct already happens electronically. In that case, much of the office might be able to do some of its work from home.

How do you communicate?

A boss used to walking into an employee's office to chat will need to adjust in a remote work situation. That means adding tools that foster communication. Many companies use Slack, a sort of message board that allows one-on-one or group communication via typing. Some companies use the similar Microsoft Teams, or other rival products.

No matter what software you use, even if you elect to not use any, it's important to talk about how you expect employees to communicate. Will your remote workers be expected to keep normal office hours, or will they have flexibility? Are they expected to be available on a near-immediate basis or can you wait to hear back?

Part of succeeding with a remote workforce is setting expectations and making sure your employees have the tools they need. That's not hard to do, but it has to be done, or you run the risk of both employees and employer building up resentment.

Flexibility helps in a lot of ways

Offering some remote work as an option does more than help recruit employees. It also keeps existing workers happier. People like flexibility. Even if it's only a few days a month to deal with family issues or work around medical appointments, a small bit of added flexibility goes a long way.

Remote work does not work for every company. You don't, however, want to rule it out just because that's how things have always been. Be open to a changing model, and be willing to consider the needs of existing and potential employees.

Offering remote work is not just an employee benefit. It can also help you as an employer, as workers may be more willing to jump in on an off day or give a quick answer when home sick. It's certainly not something that can be offered in all cases, but it's a cost-free benefit that might increase employee happiness and productivity.

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Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of, and The Motley Fool owns shares of, MSFT. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.