Maximizing Value and Minimizing Risk with Remote Workers

11/30/12Follow @drmime

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very early in their relationship—working together closely, ideally in the same room. A modicum of trust is a prerequisite to solving any of the other problems, and the creation of such trust, more than most work tasks, seems to require physical presence.

All Jobs are Not Created Equal

Obviously, there are some jobs that require physical presence and can’t be done remotely. Less obvious is the fact that, within a typical office and enterprise environment, the roles and employees span a wide range of suitability for remote work. I believe the most important factor, once roles with physical duties in the workplace have been eliminated, is age—or, more accurately, career seniority.

The rationale for this is not complicated. If you hire a new employee fresh out of college, you’re unlikely to be starting with a great deal of trust, and keeping the young employee in the office is pretty much a necessity while you gauge their performance.

The further along an employee is in their career—at your company or elsewhere—the more flexibility the employee should have earned. Perhaps the new hire fresh out of college spends a year or two in the office and produces a stellar deliverable. Along with a raise, you might reward him with a day per week working from home, if he wants it. From there, it’s natural to reward several years of productive work in this manner with another day of work from home, and so on. But be warned: new problems arise as the fraction of time in the office decreases. In particular, the employee needs to take responsibility for maintaining good relationships when personal contact becomes rare.

It’s Worth the Effort

By making your company friendly to home workers, you gain a recruiting advantage. In the end, you get better quality of work, and the employee gets a better quality of life. It’s a win-win, but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless.

Working at home actually opens up some more radical options, as well. Some day, I expect to see some forward-looking company set up a major R&D center in a surprising, inexpensive location, such as the affordable and rebounding city of Detroit, and to couple that bold move with an aggressive embrace of working from home.

Overall, working from home is still, in the larger picture, a very new thing. We’ve only scratched the surface of how remote working will change our world.

Nathaniel Borenstein is chief scientist at e-mail management firm Mimecast. Based in Michigan, he is the co-creator of the MIME e-mail standard and previously co-founded First Virtual Holdings and NetPOS. Follow @drmime

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