Telecommuting Doesn’t Work, Despite What You May Hear

“Why can’t I work from home today?” my employee asks. It would be much more convenient for me!

For me, it’s an easy answer.

“You can’t work at home because I write you a paycheck to work in the office! I hired you to work in the office! If you want to work from home, you can go work for someone else!

The argument to work from home is simple and obvious: employees argue that it is more convenient for them, and if they have a phone and a computer, they still have the basic tools to do the work. Furthermore, they remind you that it is the “new way to work” and not allowing them to work from home according to their schedule is being not only old fashioned but also a cold and non-caring employer!

The reasons not to allow employees to work from home are also incredibly strong and overwhelming – however, they are generally subtle and less obvious.

Slacking at Home

Let’s start with the most obvious reason not to allow an employee to work at home: they might not be working at all or may not work for as long of a period as they normally would. Generally, I am not overly concerned about this. However, I am not unconcerned about it either. A certain percentage, albeit perhaps a small percentage, of employees who work from home may do as little as possible while “working” from their residence.

Beyond that I think that even among those who intend to work a full hard day from home, some will get distracted. What are they going to do when their kid says their ride was cancelled to baseball practice? What are they going to do when they notice a new water leak in the roof? What are they going to say when their significant other insists on having a “can’t wait” discussion?

Nonetheless, the fact that some employees will end up not working as hard from home is not my main objection to telecommuting.

The principal reason is that people work better and are happier interacting face-to-face. There are lots of reasons why this is the case.

For one, communication is much more effective. Experts who study communication, find that much of in-person communication is done by body language. Sure you get a little of this via videoconferencing tools – but not much of it!

On top of that, I find that if an employee is physically present that I am more likely to bring up some issue or topic, often one that I would hesitate to bring up if I had to reach them via phone, email, text, or chat/message.

The Value of Small Talk

Then there are the more casual interactions, such as just saying “hello, how are you in the morning” or the water cooler conversation. Is this important? Yes it’s very important! These small words can go a long way to helping build a positive atmosphere, to creating a sense of community, and building a foundation that makes it possible to engage more effectively in more difficult conversation, such as handling a messy problem or engaging in a challenging brainstorming session.

When people have good casual rapport going on, it’s a lot easier to tackle difficult issues together. It becomes easier give critical feedback without as much risk of alienating the other person. It’s easier to respect the other person’s opinion. And it’s easier to sink deeper and faster into a business discussion.

But it’s more than that.

People are tribal by nature and they like to feel part of a group. When people are working from home, they don’t feel like they belong.

Beyond that, people like to feel part of not just a tribe or a team, but a winning team! It is one heck of a lot easier for people to feel part of a winning team when they are in the office together.

The bottom line is that telecommuting is the kiss of death to building a connected, motivated, top-performing workforce. So no, please don’t ask to work at home today!

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.