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re:Marks: A work-from-home policy is no longer an option

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Earlier this year, the company controller at a client of mine missed six full weeks of work because she had to get knee surgery. Actually, she didn't miss the entire six weeks. She missed just one week. The other five weeks she was productive — probably more productive than usual. Why?

Because she worked from home.

So let's put aside the myth about remote working not being as effective as working in the office. It certainly can be — particularly for anyone in accounting, human resources and finance. Resisting this trend is a dumb thing to do, particularly when so many employees today are demanding more flexibility, freedom and independence from their employers. Not responding to this demand is a great way to lose great people.

Sure, a lot depends on the employee. My controller-friend is a pretty disciplined person. She doesn't watch “The View.” She's not caring for a crying baby or a yapping dog. She gets a full night's sleep and isn't prone to afternoon naps. Some people aren't like this, of course. Some people need other humans around them or are more predisposed to checking up on what Judge Judy's up to.

But none of this should stop your firm or office from having a work from home policy. In fact, you better. Why? Because it’s 2019, and if you don't believe me, just look at a recent report from tech firm Zapier.

According to that report, 95 percent of the surveyed "knowledge workers" — those who work primarily in a professional setting and use a computer (which pretty much sounds like anyone working in an accounting or finance department) — said that they want a work-from-home option at their jobs, and almost three-quarters of them said they'd be willing to quit their current job for an employer that offers the option.

In this low-unemployment economy, where every employer's No. 1 concern is finding and keeping good people, this is a big deal. A work-from-home policy should be offered alongside health insurance, a retirement plan, and paid time off as a standard employee benefit. If you’re not doing that, then you’re likely losing out.

This doesn't mean that having a work-from-home policy is right for every employee … or company. Some firms, like IBM and Yahoo, have in the past few years rescinded such policies because their executives feel that an office environment encourages collaboration, teamwork and a closer culture.

I can't argue with that point of view. My company has been "virtual" for over a decade and even though I'm saving on overhead, my employees rarely get to hang out with each other. There’s less chit-chat, but because of this I think we're missing out on potential opportunities and ideas that would come about just through the conversations that happen when people are bumping into each other at the copier and the Keurig.

But it has to be tried — and the companies I know that have most succeeded with their work-from-home policies have figured out few straightforward rules.

These rules require that their employees are as available as if they were in the office, and to minimize, if not eliminate background noises (and yes, you know what they are). They require employees to appear presentable on video calls. They expect reasonable response times. For their part, these same employers commit to providing good technologies — cloud-based applications and hardware — as well as continuous feedback to make sure their remote people are in the loop.

All of this should be in writing and made available to those workers whose jobs can be done remotely. One other tip: Don't make things permanent, at least not just yet. Include in your policy a 90-day "trial period" where either party can call the arrangements quits for whatever reasons. Trust me, there will be reasons.

The controller at my client is back in the office and yes, it's good to have her around. But it's also nice to know that if she can't be around, she can still get her job done from home. Up until her absence, my client was against this kind of benefits perk. Now they realize it’s no longer a perk. It’s a necessity.

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