How to Decide Whether to Let Team Members Work Remotely

Apr 9, 2015
4 Min Read

If you’re like a lot of managers, you’re increasingly hearing requests from your team to work remotely, either once a week or as much as full-time. How do you evaluate these requests and decide if it makes sense for your team to say yes?

Here are six ways to assess whether telecommuting could work for your team members.

  • Assess what you know about the person. How long have you worked with the person who’s making the request? Are they new and untested, or someone who’s proven their work ethic and conscientiousness? Speaking of their work ethic, what do you know about it? Are they easily distracted? How much oversight do they require to work at a high level?
  • Assess what you know about the role. Some roles lend themselves to working remotely more than others. Some roles can be done from home, but it means the rest of the team will pick up a greater burden (for instance, fielding more of the tasks that require an in-office presence). Other roles can be done from home with minimal inconvenience to anyone else.
  • Assess what you know about your team. Some teams rely on in-person collaboration and someone out of sight will be out of mind. Other teams are great about including people who aren’t physically on-site. How does your team operate in that regard?
  • Try telecommuting as a limited-time experiment and see how it goes. If you agree to try it and revisit the question after a month or three months, you won’t be locked in, and it will be easier to say “this isn’t working out” if you need to (as opposed to revoking a longer-term arrangement someone was counting on). This also gives employees a chance to prove to you that they can make it work if you’re skeptical, rather than you just saying no without at least giving it a chance.
  • Set clear boundaries up front. Think about what could go wrong and figure out how to head that off. For example, you might have requirements around how accessible people need to be or what appropriate responsiveness looks like, and you should make it clear that telecommuting can’t be used as a substitute for child care.
  • Realize that you might be setting a precedent, whether you intend to or not. You don’t have to treat everyone the same, but you should be prepared to be asked why others can’t work from home if Jane gets to. (Reasonable answers to that might be about the nature of Jane’s work, or the fact that’s she’s the guinea pig to figure out if a broader program makes sense, or that her tenure and high performance have earned it for her.)

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