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Welcome to JoyPowered Workplace Podcast, where we talk about putting the humanity back into HR. Today, we’ll be talking about working remotely, and this growing trend, but first off, let’s tell you a little bit about our backgrounds and who we are. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm in Indianapolis, Indiana. Joining me is my co host and good friend, Susan White, who is a free range HR consultant and former senior VP of HR at JPMorgan Chase. Susan, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and what you do as an HR consultant.
Sure, JoDee, I’d be glad to. I spend my time really in three different areas. I consult with businesses of all sizes and shapes, I teach for the Society of Human Resource Management all over the country, and I do career coaching and executive coaching. JoDee, I know you’ve got a full plate, what is it that you do?
So, Purple Ink is an HR consulting firm, we have nine consultants, and we do recruiting, leadership development training, and HR consulting or outsourcing so that our clients range from very small clients that don’t have HR, and we filled that void for them, to large clients who have up to 18 people on their HR teams. And we work as a project arm for them, or as a fill in when they have an empty space in HR that we can help them with. So everything HR, almost. So let’s start again and talk about working remotely. What are your thoughts on this topic, Susan?
You know, you go out and you look at the statistics, and we only have about 23% of the US population who says they work remotely. I find that really hard to believe, because other studies say, how many people want to work from home, at least part time. I think the most recent global workplace analytics I’ve seen on that is about 80% of people want at least work at some point during the week from home. I’m so surprised that there’s not more companies doing it.
You know, interesting. I’ve been working at home for almost seven years now, so I feel like everyone should be able to work remotely, or work from home because it’s been such a joy and pleasure for me to be able to do that. But interestingly, Susan, I just had a conversation yesterday with a client who called me and said, I don’t know how to handle these people who want to work from home. He was very specifically talking about employees who maybe had a sick child, or how to repair man coming to their home for the day, and they needed to stay home, and they wanted to work while they were there. So, he was even talking about very specific examples of that and he was very concerned, and not willing to be very accommodating to those. His thought was: those people need to take vacation or PTO time to accommodate for those situations and I laughed with him and I said, I’m maybe not the best person to talk to about this because I’ve worked from home for seven years, and I’m a big fan of it. But I do think it’s interesting. I think there’s more people like him then there are me that are not open to that option.
What I don’t get about that is… doesn’t his employees that work inside the office, sometimes they have to go get a cup of coffee? Don’t they sometimes pick up the phone, they they’re actually quarterbacking somebody working on something in their house? Wouldn’t you feel better having some respect for that employee, letting them stay home the days they need to, and while they’re still able to do some producing. You know, if someone’s at their house doing some repairs, it doesn’t usually take them watching that person, you know, for eight hours, maybe they let the person in the door, but they can sit down, get on their laptop and keep producing for them. I just don’t get that thinking.
I don’t either. And that’s exactly the conversation I had with him about that maybe he would actually get more production out of people if they were able to have that kind of flexibility. And if he was asking them to take a vacation day that they absolutely weren’t going to work right.
It’s zero productivity, right?
Right, but that he might be able to get ahead on projects or get more accomplished if he gave them that flexibility. So, I think maybe I convinced him a little bit to adjust a little bit of those options and allow people, although again, in his case, it was only for very specific opportunities to do that.
You know, maybe we should, for our listeners, talk a little bit about the pros and the cons, maybe from the employer standpoint, and then maybe from the employee standpoint.
Let’s think about what are some of the real reasons that companies out there have decided that they are going to be a more flexible workplace and allow employees to work from home?
Interestingly, I literally just read on the way here that a company in Fishers, Indiana was closing their operations in Fishers but keeping the 240 employees who worked there, so that they could work from home because of the cost savings of not having to rent the space, so I think that’s a big one right there. Just the opportunity for companies to save space.
Oh, yeah, the cost of real estate. Absolutely. I also think about, you know, the utilities, right expenses. I think about the WiFi, you know, people working from home, no doubt have their own WiFi or internet service. What other types of things could they save on, maybe not having to buy the coffee or the water cooler or other types of things?
Well, I do think too that now, it took me some time to when I started my business seven years ago, I wasn’t immediately productive, and it took me some time to get up to speed. But, in the end, I think I’m way more productive at home by not having those water cooler conversations, the constant interruptions. Sure we still interrupt each other with texts and phone calls and emails and that type of thing, but it’s generally not as long conversation as it is with people face to face. So I believe companies can actually be more productive and get more accomplished when people are working from home.
You know, there was a survey done in 2008 by the Computing Technology Industry Association, and they had surveyed lots and lots of businesses, and they came back with a statistic of 67% saying that they had a greater productivity out of their staff that worked either full time or part time, who worked remotely.
Yeah. I totally believe that. I think early in my career, although I was not working remotely, I had a very unique, flexible schedule, that I was one of the very few people in my office at the time who was able to do that, and because I was so appreciative of that opportunity to work differently than others, I guarantee you it was the most productive time ever in my career. Because I wanted to prove to my co workers and to my bosses that I could make it work and still be productive.
I think they got more out of you than that if they’ve given you an eight to five.
Absolutely, no question about it. I was also coming in really early and had a lot of interrupted time in the mornings, so that also added to my productivity. So I think giving people those options to work when it’s… that doesn’t mean everyone has to be able to work on their own time schedule, right?
Sure, we gotta focus on the customer, right?
Right. We have to be available to customers, to clients, to our peers, to people who might need information from us, but I think if we can allow people, some flexibility in their work hours, they can be more productive and happier at the same time.
I really do agree. But you know what, I do believe that not every person is going to be successful at working from home or working remotely. I think it does take some different kind of competencies than just somebody who just likes to come in and punch the clock, right? I think you have to be pretty self disciplined, right? And you’ve got to be a self starter. So, if you need somebody to poke you to get you off the couch you to get going, you may not be the right one.
Exactly. And again, I think as in my example, it takes time to develop that. I mean, I had to kind of figure out when were the best times for me to make client appointments out of the office and I found myself early on, I would make morning appointments with clients and then in the afternoon, I’d want to come back and say sit on the couch and do some work. And several times I found myself taking a snooze nap. And I figured out for me, A.) that sitting on the couch was not a good option for me, especially in the afternoons. And that I was actually better working from home in the mornings and having client appointments in the afternoon. So, it takes figuring out what works for people. I know other people who have I’ve just recently heard of this and then all of a sudden I’ve met several people who did this where people have themed days, and they try and do certain things on certain days of the week.
So when you say themes like today’s a day when I pay my invoices, today I’m going to do outreach, that type of thing?
Right, today’s a day I’ll have client appointments, or for some people who maybe work partly in an office and partly from home that they figure out which types of projects they work on better at home where they might have an uninterrupted time. or other projects. So yes, maybe that invoice time, or paying bills is something they do in the office or not in the office, or setting up client appointments is something they try and schedule as many as they can on Mondays and Tuesdays or whatever that might look for them. that can create some discipline for people too.
Oh yeah, I like those ideas. You know, one concern that I’ve heard from managers is that they don’t really want to have employees working from home because they feel like they lose control of the data. And for fear that you know, a child will walk into the office space at home, or a spouse, or maybe a neighbor will come over to borrow some sugar, and you know, how secure is your company information if it’s spread out around somebody’s kitchen table?
You had that question come up, or do you have any ideas?
You know, I’ve had that question come up. But as you know, Susan, you’re much more risk averse than I am.
We discovered that a long time ago.
I dot my i’s and cross my T’s.
Yeah, so I’m very much on the technology side of at Purple Ink, for example, we don’t have paper files. So not that we might not occasionally have some papers on the desk or in a folder, or a current project that we’re working on. But none of us maintain file cabinets at home, or any volume of things that they keep. So we keep everything on our laptops, and they’re all backed up to our Dropbox. So that doesn’t avoid that completely, but I think some of those practices can help it too. But again, you’re more risk averse than than I, what do you think about that?
You know, I agree with you. And I think that the more paperless that we can become, the absolute better. But I think that’s important. You have sort of a set of rules. If you have an employee that’s working from home, you need to make sure that they understand data confidentiality rules and whatnot. I do believe that they need to have a laptop that is truly devoted to work. I don’t think it should be the family laptop, or the family computer where people are gonna go on and off. And I think you just need to set up a kind of a list of mutually agreeable norms, so that I would feel better, knowing that they’re regarding the company information as much as I’d want them to.
Right, right. Certainly things like only working via the company server and not storing data on hard drives, I’ve been through that several times and former organizations where people had information on laptops that were stolen or dropped or lost or had to be recreated or was stolen by an outside party too.
Yeah, you can’t be, you can’t be too… even there, JoDee, we have to look at the risks, right? Well, you know, another topic that I, since I started doing consulting that within the last three years, I have found that I really have to put extra prioritization on staying in communication with people that I can, you know, get lost in just the work I have in front of me, and I can look up and it’s six or seven hours later, and I think “I’ve not spoken to another human being,” I’m getting ready to do a presentation or whatnot. So I know for me, and I think that’s a good best practice out there for others who are telecommuting full time is to make sure that you actually block time that you’re going to be doing outreach and talking to either colleagues or collaborators or your clients to make sure that you are, you know, staying in touch with people.
Right. We have recently in the past several months set up at Purple Ink where we’re having more regular meetings between our team members, and one of our consultants who lives in Michigan… So even though all of us work from home, we still semi-frequently, we might not all see each other, but we see one person here, one person there. But Catherine, the consultant in Michigan, recently mentioned that it has made such a big difference to her for us to have more frequent meetings. And not only do we have more frequent meetings, but we’re having video meetings where we’re actually seeing each other’s faces. And although I have really enjoyed that, too, that has made just truly a significant impact to her and the way she works and feels like her interaction with others has gone up dramatically, even though technically it hasn’t, but just by being able to see each other on the webcams. So that can be a good option too.
I think it would probably actually get me out of my pajamas into nicer clothes. On those days that I’m not visiting with clients, maybe I would dress a little better too.
Yeah, I actually it’s funny. I had a client video meeting this morning. And I thought, “Oh, I better, you know, shape up a little bit here to have my meeting.” So, I’ve told many, many people over the years too Susan, when I started Purple Ink that my greatest fear in having my business, it was not about clients, it was not about business development, it was not about cash flow… I’m not sure it was the right thing to worry about and that I shouldn’t have been more focused on those topics, but my number one concern was my fear of working from home, even though I loved having that ability to do it, to think that I might be home five days a week all by myself. So, when you talked about getting ingrained and looking up and thinking, I haven’t talked to people. I’m an extrovert. And so it was very important for me to be surrounded by people. And I think something I did early on, if I didn’t have anyone to meet with or thought I was going to have a whole day of work at home, I even would just call a friend and schedule a lunch so that I would get myself out of my home and talking with other people back when I didn’t have any other internal people to talk to. So I think it’s important to figure those things out for yourself about your personal needs, and what you need to do to make it work for you.
Oh, I think that’s very smart. You know, I just was reading an article in Forbes in November and they were talking about working remotely. They said that you’re 87% more likely to love your job if you telecommute. Isn’t that huge?
That is huge.
If I could find that, like the secret recipe, the secret sauce to, you know, help my employees be engaged. I think how you can you not look at remote work, right?
Right, right. I think so too. I do… one thing I hear, though, what do you think about some people say, “but there are so many jobs where you can’t offer that to people.” Do you think that’s true? Or do you think people just aren’t thinking very creatively about how to make that happen?
You know, I think they’re not thinking broadly enough. I think it’s really easy to say no, but I think that if you sit down and really do a job analysis and figure out what are the actual responsibilities, somebody has to physically be in a certain location to do, and then say, okay, maybe that’s 40% of some jobs, 60%. Maybe there’s a few. Maybe if you’re a security guard, you need to be there, guarding whatever it is they’re paying you to guard. But I think it’s rare. I mean, can you think of any jobs where absolutely… you know, people used to say to me, “Well, if you’re managing people, you’ve got to be there to watch the people,” I don’t buy that anymore. Now maybe if it’s a call center, and everyone is attached to technology that has to physically be there, all right. But usually even jobs that are customer service oriented, so many of them now are being done in remote locations, or people’s homes. So as long as you have the right platform of technology, and you can see what your staff is doing, perhaps you can listen in to those calls for training purposes only. Or if you can see the call volume coming in, so on and so forth. I’m not convinced that the answer of “No, this job has to be done here” is really a fair answer.
Right. I think the one job that always comes to mind for me first is thinking that well, your receptionist, you couldn’t have your receptionist work from home. But I’ve decided even I think that isn’t valid either. I know in offices I’ve worked at the receptionist couldn’t physically see us anyway, she was looking at a computer screen or a monitor that showed whether people were in or out of the office or available or not available. Of course, you would have the issue of greeting people who might physically come into your space. Now, of course, I go into many, many offices where you walk in the door, and there’s a phone list and a phone and you call the person you need, and I know it doesn’t seem quite as customer friendly, but in offices where maybe the volume of traffic coming in off the street is not that heavy, it just doesn’t seem to make sense. Even again, back to a cost perspective of thinking about paying someone to sit there every day. So as long as someone can be available to answer the phone from wherever they are.
Yeah, I was going to say say, I can’t remember the last time I saw receptionist, but I know a few are still out there and I do love to be greeted, even though I know that it’s more rare, right?
Right. Right. Susan, do we have any listener mail yet?
Oh, yeah. Let me take a look here. Oh, yes. We’ve got Julia from Fort Wayne. And she’s got a question on working from home today’s topic. She says, “I would like to work from home, but my boss doesn’t seem very interested. Do you have any suggestions on how I can make this happen?”
So my first suggestion, Julia would be to take it a little bit slow. Think about asking could you work from home one day a week? Could you work from home a couple of afternoons a week? How could you start out that would maybe make it work for your boss in sort of a trial run, that you could ease into it and let him gain your trust and respect. Let him figure out what works well for you to do at home and what might not.
I think that’s smart. The other thing I was thinking is maybe Julia, you put together kind of a mini business plan, and you lay out, you know, explain what your commute is today. Talk about the hours that you’re working and try to explain that there’s any projects or extra overtime or anything strategic that’s not getting done that you’d like to try to tackle for him. And ask if you can put together a kind of a pilot, where for the next month, you try doing this new schedule where you work two days or three days or something from home, and here’s what the benefit would be to him or her of your doing that and really lay it out in a business sense and say, you know, what, will you give it a try for a month and when we can revisit it at the end of the month. If we don’t get the return on investment that I think you will, then we’ll go back, you know, no harm.
I think that’s a great idea. And I love having an end date on it, which might not be what Julia would like to hear, but will be much more comforting to her boss to think, okay, I can do this for a month and we can revisit it. I’m not committing to it for a long time.
I think that’s really smart too. And then you know the other thing Julia, if your boss never comes around, and this isn’t going to be an option for you, and it’s really, really important to you for whatever other reason in your life, you know, you might want to start thinking about is there somewhere else where I could take my talents. A website that I’ve used recently and one of my career coaching clients just has fallen in love with is called flexjobs.com, check it out. They have an amazing number of opportunities and they’re these are meaningful jobs. These aren’t, you know, stuffing envelopes from home. These are real jobs, needing real skills and people are using it to find roles that they can do from home. So give it a shot.
I think that’s great. And one other thought I have for Julia too, is to be very honest with your boss about when things are working and when they’re not. It’s not going to be perfect right off. And there might be a few stumbles, and instead of trying to hide those or not share them with with your boss, tell your boss what went wrong and how you might do it differently the next time. Did you try to log into a conference call and you didn’t get on? Did you have some problems with your internet and now you understand how it worked? So that they don’t see it as a failure, but something you figured out and were able to come and know you have a better plan for the next time that situation comes up, because it won’t be perfect at first.
I think that’s very smart advice. So Julia, JoDee, and I want to hear from you. Let us know, if you would, how it goes, we wish you the best on it.
So let’s move on to our next segment of in the news. So what we’ll do in this segment is talk about a topic that has been hot in the news and today’s topic is a study says that 8% of workers continue to stay at a job despite feeling unmotivated, disengaged, and negative about their employers. Why do you think this is happening, Susan?
You know, I did read this report. It was Aon Hewitt that put it out just in October of 2016. And it was interesting, they said that the longer that someone is with a company, the more likely they are to start to feel like a prisoner of that company. I think as you said, it’s only 8% of all employees. But by the time someone’s been in a firm for 26 years or more, it rises up to about 17%. So some of the theory behind it, at least from what they could tell from the survey was that these are employees who feel as though they’re underappreciated. They’re not being paid enough. They’re doing the minimum adequate work they can not to get fired. It was so interesting to me that when they actually took a look at the real salaries of these people, they’re higher pay than the average of these companies. And so, perhaps the reason why they’re staying is that they realize they’re more than the market, they can’t go out there and get another job. But sadly, they’re feeling disengaged where they are. So why is that going on?
Yeah, I think I’ve read an article recently that talking about that. A common answer to that might be that people are afraid of change, but this article I read recently said it wasn’t so much that people are afraid of change as much as they’re afraid of things being worse than they are, that they’re afraid to take a new job where it might be even worse.
The grass isn’t greener. They’re afraid the grass is browner.
Right. Right. Right. And I have personally had an experience in my career, not so much with myself, but with the people, the executive team I was surrounded by, where this was absolutely the case. And you mentioned about the pay scale. These were the highest paid people in the company, and they had stayed there so long and in a role that they were disengaged from, and likely hadn’t kept up their skills in their field as much and were overpriced in the market, and they were they were afraid to go out there and find that they couldn’t replace their incomes. And were living at a lifestyle that they wanted to continue to support. So they stayed in roles that they were very disengaged in.
And you know, what makes me sad about that is that affects everybody else that’s working with them. Right? When you’re working with somebody who is tired or bored or just not enjoying what they’re doing, you can’t help but feel that feel that tension in the workplace.
Right, right. My advice, you know, Susan, I wrote a book this year, called JoyPowered, where a chapter in it talked about this concept, and my first advice to people… obviously one solution is to find a new position somewhere else in a different company, and I have long encourage people to go interview for different positions because I have always said, you’ll either find some something that is better for you. Or maybe you’ll find out that where you are, it makes you more appreciative of where you are. That maybe there’s a lot of things your company offers that you’ve forgotten over time. Maybe it’s the ability to work from home or the ability to be flexible or the benefits that you offer. But before you even do that, which can be an option, my first advice to people, you know, I’m a fan of Strength Finders, is to really think about what you do best, and how can you reengage those activities in the job you have right now. You know, you might have been there, people might have been there for a while doing the same old routine and losing their engagement. But if they refocus on their strengths and what they do well, maybe there’s some things that about their current job that they can find themselves being reengaged in.
I think that’s an excellent point. You know, it’s interesting in this Aon Hewitt study, they gave some advice too, to managers, you know, managers realize when they have an employee that’s not engaged, you know, you can feel it, you can see it, you can taste it, you can smell it. Managers need to sit down with those employees and say, I think you’ve got more potential than you’re sharing here, right? Let’s put it on the table. I know you’re capable of more and you walk around here acting like a prisoner, you know, let’s talk about how we can make that different. And maybe they’re performing the work itself, but if they’re not living your company’s, you know, engagement and values and mission and vision, I think that’s a real conversation that managers should not… I don’t know if the right word is tolerate, but should not accept it. You know, sometimes folks just need to be spurred on.
I think that’s exactly right. And again, for the manangers, it’s an opportunity to look deeper and those employees and talk to them about reengaging them in that position. Or maybe it is time for them to move on to a different role. Maybe it’s time for the manager to make that decision. But again, I would also encourage that manager to take that initial step to think about reengaging their strengths, to looking at motivating them to think about what their potential is and how they might add more value.
Well, thank you for listening to us today. If you have questions or feedback, you can follow us on Twitter @joypowered. Please tune in next month as we talk about how to negotiate for salary and a raise.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
Thanks a lot, Susan.
Thank you JoDee. Bye bye.