Pros & Cons of Working from Home

a man sitting on a couch using a laptop computer

It’s 2019 and most people can virtually work from anywhere in the world, setting aside the discussion on work-life balance, let’s talk about work-from-home policies. 

Whether you have an entirely virtual work environment or you allow employees to work from home on occasion, employers need to be mindful of the pros and cons. 

Allowing employees to work from home can be a benefit that attracts and retains talent, so let’s first focus on the pros. 

· Elimination of commuting – The average commute time in the US is 26.1 minutes per direction. Allowing employees to work from home gives them back time in their day – arguably an invaluable benefit as time is our most precious resource. Not to mention the reduced expense associated with commuting – gas, wear and tear on vehicles, tolls, trains, etc. 

· Minimize Distractions – Working from home allows employees to eliminate distractions from the office (which can be a con too…). Employees on a tight deadline or working on a major project may benefit from some alone time where out of sight, out of mind from the normal distractions that exist in the office. 

· Flexibility – If you are anything like me, some days you just need to roll out of bed and hit the keyboard (yes I do brush my teeth first, most of the time). Getting a jump on the workday before everyone else, and while the brain is at its peak performance can be just what the doctor ordered. Studies show that our brains perform best between 7 and 9 am. 

Now the cons, okay maybe not cons per se, but as an employer you need to be mindful of these and prepare. 

· Expenses – while allowing employees to work from home cuts their expenses, it could increase yours. In California employers are required to reimburse employees for all expenses incurred for the benefit of the company. Does that mean you are now on the hook for their mortgage or rent? While maybe not yet, you could be on the hook for their internet, phone, printing, and other related expenses. Recently, an unsuccessful attempt in the courts was made by an employee seeking to sue his employer for not reimbursing his electricity bills that he alleged increased due to working from home. While this was a win for the employer, it’s not too far off from the direction California is headed, so beware. 

· Safety – What happens when an employee suffers an on-the-job injury while working for you at home? How do you control the work environment when it’s your employee’s home? How do you ensure that it is a safe working environment? Are you going to start doing home checks before approving a remote working environment?  All of these things need to be considered. Talk to your insurance broker and coordinate with Human Resources before doing any employee home inspections – that could open a whole other can of worms. 

· Timekeeping – One of the scariest areas in California these days is wage and hour issues. While we never advise our clients allow non-exempt employees to work remotely, if you do, you will need to be sure all wage and hour rules are being followed. Meal and rest breaks must still be taken, all time worked must be recorded, even if it was easy and “no big deal” for the employee to send off that one extra email after clocking out, and so on. We recommend that to the extent possible companies limit remote working arrangements to exempt employees. 

· Distractions – While in some ways working from home may eliminate distractions, it also creates new ones. Like for me, it’s hard not to throw a load of laundry in the washer while I am at home working. But those breaks here and there throughout the day add up. Also, some employees misunderstand that working from home does not mean that they can do away with day care. Employers should make clear that just as an employee’s child cannot be with them in the office, they cannot be sitting next to them at home (as we know, kids don’t just sit quietly while mommy and daddy work or take phone calls). 

· Loss of Connection – With advances in technology in some ways we seem to be less and less connected to each other, but we are still human and humans require human interaction. Consider the effects on your culture, moral and overall working environment if your employees never see each other, or if one member of the team never sees their coworkers. Is interacting via email, text, and chat rooms really going to create the synergies with your team that are necessary for the success of your business?

Work-from-home policies will not work for every company. Weigh the pros and cons for your own business, and if you decide to embark on a remote work environment, even if only on occasion, be sure you draft a comprehensive policy, educate your employees on the policy, and don’t forget to notify your insurance broker too.  

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