If there’s one valuable lesson that we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that a lot of the jobs that were once considered exclusively onsite positions can actually be accomplished remotely. But now as much of the world slowly prepares to resume its normal operations, many small business owners are left questioning whether they should continue to offer a work from home option as a part of their standard benefits package. In this episode, Jon Aidukonis and Gene Marks discuss how small business owners can implement an effective work from home policy.
0:36—Today’s Topic: Should My Small Business Allow Employees
to Work from Home?
1:14—Working from home may not be the best option for every
employee since some people have difficulty interacting with others on a virtual
3:08—After a year of working remotely, many businesses are
giving their employees the choice of whether they want to return to the office
or if they want to continue working from home.
4:03—Not every position can be done remotely and it is
ultimately up to you, as a small business owner, to determine whether this new
work from home model is conducive to your services or industry.
4:48—Given the current labor shortage, offering some type of
work from home option as a benefit will definitely give your business a
competitive edge when recruiting new talent.
6:26—In order to craft a work from home policy for your
small business, you must first determine which positions do not actively require
an employee to be onsite or at the office. Once you’ve done that, you need to
figure out how they can accomplish their work remotely and provide them with all
the necessary resources to do so.
7:39—Your work from home policy doesn’t need to be “all or
nothing.” There can still be times when you require in-person interactions; you
just need to be transparent with your employees about your expectations.
8:20—If establishing a sense of camaraderie among your
employees is important to your company culture, then you may still need to
offer onsite opportunities for your staff to interact and build relationships
with one another.
10:05—Even if your staff is working remotely, you still need
to be clear about their availability during designated “office hours” so that you
can keep an open line of communication; this point is especially important if
their position requires them to interact with customers.
12:53—If you decide to implement a work from home policy at
your small business, you need to offer some form of collaboration platform for
14:16: Every virtual platform you use needs to be secure in order to protect your confidential data.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Gene: Hey everybody and welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast from the Hartford. My name is Gene marks. I’m here with my fearless, co-host, Jon Aidukonis. Jon, say hello.
Jon: Hello everyone. How’s it going today?
Gene: Glad to have you here. We have lots to talk about today and sometimes we do this podcast and we chit chat in the beginning and all that. There’s no need to chit chat this time, Jon, because this topic is all the chat that’s going on right now and it’s all about working from home. You have been working from home now, for how long?
Jon: So, yeah. Oh, wow. How long? It’s almost two years that the company has kind of transitioned to a work from home environment. I personally, however, am not a good worker from home. And I’ve been back in the office full time for a little over two months and I was one of the last people to leave. So I’ve kind of had this hybrid experience. It’s probably a little bit different from some other folks.
Gene: Why don’t you think you’re a good worker from home person?
Jon: So that’s a loaded question, right? I think there’s a couple of reasons. I find myself most effective in an in-person work environment. So I am someone who gets a lot accomplished from office drop-ins, from being able to poke in and say, Hey, I need you real quick to get something signed off on. I think somewhat that’s the nature of my work. I think there’s a lot that we, as humans are able to accomplish with the right relationships, especially when it comes to your ability to influence decisions. And I don’t think I have mastered that in a virtual way. On the folks side, I think people who are really good at that, kind of like, networking from afar skill have had a brand new opportunity for them where it’s probably more equitable and accessible for them. And in a way that maybe if you’re in a job where there’s kind of an office structure and a field structure, there’s probably a little bit more common ground than there was before, but it’s just been an interesting dynamic. I think I’ve figured out that I am more of an office person.
Gene: So what do you think of these large companies? My son, John works at PWC, right. And he loves it there and there they’re a huge international accounting firm and they were in the news just a few weeks ago because they made the announcement, I think for like their 40,000 employees that going forward, those employees can decide for themselves if they want to come in the office or just work from home. And there are no different from the Hartford and other big brands, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, they’re all… All companies and small businesses are faced with this thing like, how do we handle this work from home thing? Do you think that companies are… Do you agree that a company can have a policy, particularly a small business, where they leave that work from home decision, just up to their employees?
Jon: So I think it can exist. And I think it’s being demonstrated on the large side, right? So a hundred percent, right. The Hartford had a similar policy. I don’t even know if I would call it a policy, but perspective on it where we’ve really been leaning into the nature of being a performance culture, and that’s going to be different things for different people. And for some people that’s going to mean working from home full time. For some, that’s going to be more kind of a part-time work from home, part-time in office. For some, it might be full-time in office. Everyone needs different things. And I feel that the company has been really flexible in being able to meet those needs. And I see that a lot, which I think is awesome. I think there’s a lot of people where, they’ve been making the case for a long time.
There was no difference in my work life and my home life. My life is my life and I need the flexibility to do what I need to do. And that means I can be an effective employee in ways that are not traditional nine to five, behind a desk in an office space. Right. I don’t know as much how you think about that when you’re in jobs that require shift work or customer interaction or some more of these main street moments, right? Perhaps there are some roles, maybe you have like an office manager, right, where they don’t necessarily need to be in a store greeting guests. And that can be more of a remote opportunity, but I think it is something that’s really unique to the business.
That’s going to be unique to your industry and that’s going to be unique for your staff. I think the one thing that’s really consistent across all of it, if anything came out of kind of the pandemic and our response to it as a nation, if not the world, is that it forced us to look at different ways of doing things. And that resulted in this new type of flexibility that I don’t think existed before.
Gene: I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say that I think coming out of the pandemic, that if you’re a business owner, a small business owner, you are really hurting yourself if you don’t have some type of a work from home benefit, like health insurance, like retirement plans. You need to be providing some work from home option. How do you feel about that?
Jon: Again, I think it makes sense where it makes sense, but for some people might not make sense. Right. So I think where it’s applicable, I agree. I think that you’re going to definitely open up your access to talent. You’re going to attract a different pool of people to look at your job. I think you might even get some folks who you couldn’t have competed with before as an employer, but I do still wonder, and I think it’s the question everyone’s kind of figuring out, can every job work from home? Some you can’t, right? You have to be there to do it. And I look at those less as office jobs and more kind of like customer interaction, jobs, or service level jobs, but maybe there’s elements that you can, kind of in your industry, your business. I think for those, I could definitely see that being kind of a new table 6 requirements.
Gene: So, okay. So Jon, let me put you in the… Because you’ve got such great yo experience working for a large company and also as a guy who, you had the work from home option and yet you come into the office. So say you were running your own small business, what would your work from home policy be? What would be like… How would you craft a work from home policy?
Jon: Yeah, I think it would depend on the business. So give me a fictional business.
Gene: Sure. So let’s take you’re a landscaping firm and you’ve got people that are out and about at, they have to go to customer’s locations but you’ve also got a staff internally that’s doing customer service or sales or marketing. So you’ve got a combination of people that are in the field that are working, and then you’ve got people that are also in the office working. Take a stab at a work from home policy.
Jon: Yeah. So I think if I was in an operation like that, there’s definitely some flexibility and some accommodations I could make as an employer. I think one is if the job is not required to be performed in the office, I’d figure out a way to give you an opportunity to do it elsewhere. So I think about in a landscaping company, maybe that’s like a bookkeeper, right? Maybe that’s a scheduler. Maybe that’s someone who’s kind of booking appointments for you kind of like a coordinator of sorts. I think those take the flexibility, do what you need, as long as we can mutually agree on like the hours you’re going to be available. Especially if it’s still a customer interaction role, I’d want to make sure that people could get you during what I’ll air quote is business hours.
Jon: I think there was also time though, when it might require people to interact face to face and maybe that’s some kind of monthly or quarterly meeting. Maybe that’s some kind of deep financial review where I really need to kind of be in a room and help, you, as someone who manages my finance maybe helped me understand something. So I think in spaces like that, I would probably try and define the expectations of when I might need you to be there, so we could at least kind of have some guard rails on what that looks like. So maybe it’s the fourth, Tuesday of every month will be our in office say, if we need to kind of get together as a leadership team, or if we need to go over something that really requires some level of personal interaction. I’d also want to think about ways to make sure there was still a company culture where people could interact and socialize and kind of build comradery.
And that’s probably something I would, as best I could, design to be an experience that was in person or in office that people would willingly want to attend. Probably do everything as they could as employer sort of mandated, just to make sure there was a sense of people still feeling like a team, because I think that is something that you struggle with more in a virtual world. And I think that’s important to really having an effective business is having people who feel a connection to it and feel a connection to each other and feel like they’re working towards common goals. And a lot of that comes through relationship building, in my opinion, at least.
Gene: Yeah. It’s funny for those of you that have been listening to this podcast over the years, you’ll know that my company is a virtual company. I have 10 employees. We’ve been virtual since 2005, Jon. So like a long time. And so, yeah. Everybody’s had the flexibility, the mobility, the independence, all that kind of stuff. And yet we are like the world’s most dysfunctional company. We don’t see each other as a group ever. We bump into each other clients are online, but what you said is exactly right. People need to be together with people to chat and innovate and share ideas and thoughts. And so, I can’t imagine any business just fully going work from home. I think there’s a balance. I really do. And maybe a one day a week or two days a week.
Also, your comment about being available is also very true. You have to make sure that just because somebody is working from… And you got used to this, right. Yeah, you’ve been working from home for all this time, but you realize that it’s a… You’ve got to be available. People are trying to get ahold of you. It’s just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean you’re not working. Right.
Jon: Right. And I think that’s the kind of the double-edged sword of the work from home that I see. So in some roles, I think it makes it really easy for you to work 24/7 and have no boundaries, which is just as bad, I think in the long-term is having too many. Right. So I think it really depends on the role. Sometimes if you can do your job from five o’clock at night until eight o’clock in the morning, and that’s what you preferred, it doesn’t require a ton of accessibility and we’ll go for it. But every employee at some point is going to need to have some level of communication with their boss. So if that’s the nature of the work, I’d probably set up standing one-on-ones just to make sure I could check in, make sure they could check in with me, make sure that we’re on the same page.
But again, if it’s a customer facing role that would be remote, that’s something I’d really want to kind of have designated time around, because I feel like that’s important. People need to know when they can get service and you have to have rational expectations of SLAs and kind of conducting your business. So that is where I think I’d probably be a little bit more, you can work from anywhere, but there’s still a shift and there’s still a job. And how do we kind of work together to define that? And during that time, how do you balance distractions?
Because I think that’s the other challenge is that there’s this kind of overlap now between life and work. And we’re all, I think still kind of figuring out what that means for us, especially when, if you have kids, if you have pets, if you’re taking care of an older, loved one or a spouse. If your spouse is working from home, do you have the space? So I think as an employer too, I’d want to make sure if I kind of enable that decision, I also have the means to kind of provide the tools and technology to make sure we both were getting what we needed out of it.
Gene: Yeah. That makes sense. I have one client, he just started to work from home policy, but no one is allowed to work from home on Mondays or Fridays. What a jerk, huh?
Jon: Yeah. And I wonder if that’s how people react to that, so I don’t know.
Gene: It’s funny about that because on the one side, if you’re an employer, you’re thinking like somebody’s going to work from home on a Monday and Friday. All right, we know what they’re up to on a Monday or Friday. But if you’re an employee, your response could also be like, Hey man, I should be responsible enough to choose what days I work from home. I’ll get my job done. So, it’ll be an interesting sociological battle going back and forth, I think over the next few years. Before we end this Jon, technologies when you’re working from home. Hartford uses Microsoft teams, I see a lot of my clients, both big and small use G Suite, Slack, obviously Zoom, for online conferences. What thoughts do you have on technologies that should be provided to your work from home workers?
Jon: Yeah. You definitely need to give a collaboration platform of some sort. And I think that can be whatever makes sense for your budget and your company, but some kind of virtual conferencing like interaction platform. I guess I don’t really know what the right word or category is or whether it’s a Zoom or Teams or Google meeting where, where you can kind of as best as possible replicate kind of a face to face interaction, or at least be able to share documents and collaborate on things, because that is something when you’re not in the same space and you can’t kind of like run back and forth with a pencil and a notebook, that you still need to be able to do. And I think making sure that like you have things that allow you to securely transact your business. So in a distributed world, you’re probably thinking about some kind of cloud computing.
So making sure that the terms that you’re agreeing to make sense for the data and the services that you provide and keep you and your customer’s information safe, I think that’s really important. So I think there was some level of understanding if there’s like new risks that, that poses and making sure you’re protected as best you can be to [inaudible] and being responsible on those things too. Especially now that I think we’re out of the reactive phase and it’s more like, how do you plan for a future in this model? Take the time to understand what it is that you’re really kind of now doing in a virtual world and make sure that you do have the right tools and kind of mechanisms in place to both kind of enable it and protect it.
Gene: Yeah. And one of the things I’m going to add to that of course, is security guys. Ransomware has just exploded this past year because so many people are working from home. And there’s Jon sitting on his Windows seven computer at home and downloading all sorts of garbage and attracting all this malware. And unfortunately when the malware hits your computer, it could easily get onto your company’s network as well. Whether you’re in the cloud or hosted, or you’re hosting stuff yourself, you really do open yourself up to that. So you have to make sure that your employees are running the most recent operating systems of Mac iOS or Windows or Android. They’ve got to be… You got to backup systems in place and you’ve got to actually have a good IT firm in place to make sure that they’re checking to make sure that your employees, their local computers are not infected.
A lot of people I know, they’re sharing their computers with their kids or their teenagers, God knows what’s going on and all that can definitely… It can definitely hurt your own networks. That’s something to keep in mind. Jon, listen, I think the takeaway though, from his whole year of working from home, is this, okay? The millennials were right. They’ve been saying for years, we should be working from home more. We should be more independent. We should be more mobile. And all of us old guys are like, no, no, no, be quiet. Get back to work. I don’t want to hear it. And then COVID comes, shuts everything down. Everybody goes home. And what do you know? Everybody’s working away just fine. So in the end, the millennials are right, right?
Jon: I don’t know. I’m a millennial and I’m the one who’s like, does somebody want to come to the office with me so I can look at a human on a Tuesday? So I think there’s a little bit in there for everyone, but your comment in cyber reminded me and we’ll make sure we link in the show notes wherever you listen. We did a podcast with someone from the Teneo group who talked a lot about like easy things you can do and kind of considerations to make when you’re setting up a network, especially kind of in a virtual world. So we’ll make sure we kind of link that in the show notes and in the blog article. So you can find that easily, if you are interested in finding out a little bit more about how you can kind of best prepare your small business for cybersecurity.
Gene: Very, very good. Well, Jon great conversation. I hope if you’ve been listening to this, you took a little AFU thoughts to put in your mind as you formulate your much needed and essential work from home policy that your business has to have. And that is one of the many impacts I think that the pandemic has had on us. So Jon, thank you very much. This was a lot of fun.
Jon: Yeah. Thanks Gene and let us know in the comments, do you let your workforce work from home? Are they asking you for it? How have you thought about it in your different industries? Let us know a little bit about how you’ve handled that and what you’re thinking about going forward. We’d love to hear from you.
Gene: I agree. Everyone, you’ve been listening to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you need some tips, advice, help in running your business, please visit us @smallbizahead.com on behalf of Jon Aidukonis, my famous cohost. This is Gene Marks. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. And we look forward to another segment sometime very, very soon. Take care.
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