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Scott M. Paton

A Leap of Faith

Having employees work from home requires more than an investment in technology.

 

While writing my column this month, I was also carrying on an AOL Instant Messenger conversation with Dirk Dusharme, our editor in chief. Dirk and I live about 90 miles apart; he works primarily from his home in the Sierra foothills. He was writing this month’s First Word column. (Yes, being the dedicated professionals that we are, we both waited until the night before deadline to write our columns.) I sent chunks of this column to Dirk as I wrote it. So, you’ll see some of his comments as you read this.

Dirk: You think I’m writing First Word. For all you know, I could be drinking a beer and surfing Internet porn.

This column is actually one of two experiments being conducted at Quality Digest. The other is an experiment in employee trust, one that many organizations are conducting with differing results. We recently decided to allow about half of our employees to work from home.

Dirk: Employee productivity is at an all-time low, but they seem happy.

He’s just kidding, of course. Several studies suggest that employees who work from home are more productive than those working in the office. Nevertheless, sending our employees home to work has been a radical change for our small company. We’ve all worked so closely together over the years that it was a difficult mindset to change.

For years I resisted this change, losing several employees who had to stay at home because of family responsibilities.

Dirk: You mean they wanted to stay home with their kids? How could you be so heartless?

I wouldn’t say heartless. I was just being a responsible manager, making sure that I was carefully managing our assets.

Dirk: Uh-huh.

No, really. I thought it best that all of the employees be together under one roof to reap the benefits of close collaboration. You know, synergy.

Dirk: Please!

OK! I admit it. I didn’t fully trust my employees.

Dirk: Confession is good for the soul.

What? Now you’re a priest? Stop interrupting! As I was saying, it's been a radical change for our small company, involving quite a shift in employee mindsets and attitudes, most notably among the managers.

Then there was the issue of technology. We’re a small company. We don’t exactly have the resources of IBM. But I have to admit that as daunting as it was, the technology required to allow our employees to work from home was pretty straight-forward.

Dirk: Yeah, you’re not the one who had to order the phone lines, map out the wiring, reconfigure the server, install the new firewall, listen to the employees complain about how they can’t log onto the server…

Did I mention that in addition to being the editor in chief, Dirk is also our IT guy? We really are a small company.

We had a number of issues to consider: How would those employees working from home and those who moved to our new office feel about the change? (Yes, we also moved to new offices during the transition period. In retrospect, not a good idea.) What effect would the transition have on our customers? Would they have any difficulties communicating with our employees? How would we ensure that the transition would be seamless? Well, thanks to the work of our IT guy, we were able to make the move almost invisible to our subscribers and advertisers.

Dirk: OK, now I’m blushing.

Of course, the technology can be a pain. Now, instead of people constantly popping into my office, they send me instant messages all day (and night, in Dirk’s case). At least I can turn Instant Messenger off.

Dirk: How rude!

See what I mean about constant interruptions? Ah, now Robert Green, our director of online media, has IM’d me.

Robert: I heard you were working on your column about working at home. Did I tell you that I didn’t shave at all this week?

I’m sure his wife just loves that. It’s 9:30 at night. Don’t these people have lives? Robert’s working on updating our buyers guide database. I guess working from home really is making our employees more productive. Or, could it be that I’m not the only procrastinator around here?

Dirk: On that note, good night!

Robert: Ditto!

Working from home may be working well for us, but I don’t think I’ll write another column quite like this again.

On a more serious note, many companies are sending their employees home to work just as we have. As they do, they're faced with a host of challenges, including quality issues such as document control, auditing and customer satisfaction, just to name a few. If your organization has employees who work from home, we’d like to hear how you’re handling these and other quality issues. Send your thoughts to the e-mail address below.

About the author
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest's publisher.