Should employees be allowed to work from home?

If companies want to attract and keep top employees, they should, argues this PR pro.

If you work in the PR industry, you already know seven out of 10 of your co-workers are women . And if you pay attention to higher education, you also know this statistic isn’t likely to decline anytime soon— for every male college graduate this past year, there were 1.35 female graduates.

As a fully participating father of three, I can attest that while much has changed in recent decades regarding parental responsibility, the undeniable truth is that moms bear more of the responsibility/burden/joy of childbirth and child rearing than men do. Therefore, family responsibilities impact women more professionally than men.

This means the PR industry is among the most affected professions when it comes to work/family balance and work policies that allow women to succeed at home and at work.

At our firm, we found that a generous maternity-leave combined with a gradual return-to-work and telecommuting/work-from-home policy for full- and part-time staffers effectively achieves high retention, work-satisfaction, and productivity levels.

Much of the need for flexible work schedules is exacerbated by the fact that work and school schedules just don’t jive. As Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in an excellent article in Atlantic Magazine, it is extremely difficult for working parents to deal with school schedules. You can’t drop your child at school and get to work before 9:30 a.m., or make all of the mid-day/early afternoon events, recitals, field trips, and class presentations that only a stay-at-home parent can regularly attend.

Your nanny may be able to attend these events, but you can’t unless your company offers a work-from-home or flexible work schedule that allows you to attend enough of these events while keeping up with your clients, projects and conference calls.

Unfortunately, a new survey by Citrix—the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company that designs technology for employees who work remotely—may throw some cold water on already latent suspicions that not everyone who works from home is working.

In a survey of 1,013 American office workers conducted in June by Wakefield Research, 43 percent said they watch TV or a movie while they work from home, and 20 percent play video games. Another 24 percent admitted to having a drink. Twenty-six percent said they take naps.

Housekeeping distracts others: 35 percent do household chores, and 28 percent cook dinner. (One could argue that this isn’t much different from the time people spend socializing at work or wandering around the Internet.)

Yet despite all the distractions, telecommuters are actually more productive than their peers in the office, preliminary findings from a Stanford University study say.

Despite its more dire findings, the Wakefield survey also suggests employers may be missing a low-cost way to give workers something of value. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents who haven’t worked remotely “identify at least one extremely popular perk or pleasure they’d be willing to give up in order to work from home just one day a week.”

I am not currently a telecommuter, but I do have a flexible work schedule. I can attest that I often get more work done from home—sometimes during the day, but more likely between 10 p.m. and midnight—than I did all day at the office. Granted, the work I do at the office is more about motivating, leading and dealing with people, which is best done face-to-face.

Even in a client-service profession such as PR, there is plenty of room for intelligent telecommuting policies that allow staffers to be more fulfilled at home and at work. Most importantly, such policies require trust from employers and accountability from employees to assure these policies work.

Smart firms will recognize that to keep their best and brightest employees, they need to trust them to manage their time, as well as their client and co-worker relationships, effectively and efficiently under flexible work schedules.

Mike Mulvihill is president at CRT/tanaka. A version of this article originally appeared on The Buzz Bin.

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Topics: PR

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