Why I Let My Employees Work From Home
When my wife matched a residency program in Cleveland, we decided to leave Philadelphia, where I had worked for Satori Group, a multi-dimensional database provider, for 3 years. I continued working for them from my home office in Cleveland for 5 more years. Working from home is fairly accepted in the US, providing a wider access to talent and saving the often lengthy commute.
After making Aliyah, I found it difficult to find a job, which I'm sure was in no small part due to the fact that we made Aliyah to the North, living in Ma’alot. Unfortunately, Israeli employers are a bit more skeptical about employees handling the commute from the
North to the Tel Aviv area, because they’re concerned that the employee won’t actually come into the office every day. I accepted an offer to head up Product Management at Leverate, a company based in Ramat Gan. For a year and a half I was using public transportation to get from Ma’alot to Ramat Gan every day, leaving the house before 6am and getting home after 9.30pm, spending at least 2 and a half hours in each direction. It was certainly difficult, especially on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings, where there wasn’t even space to sit on the train. I gained a new appreciation for Shabbat as it was the only time I saw my kids.
Integrity is very important to me. I appreciated that they gave me the job and wanted to do my best. Since my employer felt I needed to be in the office for that to happen, there wasn’t really a question of would I go in. Once I pledged I’d be going in, I went in. That’s what I signed up for. I worked there for a year and a half before pursuing my next career goal, and left, in part, because of the commute.
For me, allowing the immense flexibility that Brix Software allows its employees was at the outset, a very deliberate and intentional decision, not a situation we found ourselves in. I truly believe there isn’t any compelling reason not to offer this option to your employees. I’d argue that if you hire an employee that you’re concerned will take advantage of your company, forcing them to work from the office isn’t going to stop that from happening; don’t hire an employee you don’t trust in the first place.
All employers should be concerned about getting the best work out of their employees. Traditionally, companies have decided that they know best what the employees need, and therefore requirements like being in the office or working specific hours are there, when ultimately there should be no constraints. The reason we allow our employees to work from home, which all of our 60+ employees exercise to varying degrees, is that there is no reason not to, when we get what we need from them. Additionally, allowing that flexibility differentiates us in a competitive marketplace, where most companies don’t allow that approach, and gives us access to top talent that is looking for flexibility.
Several studies have shown that the most frustrating part of an employee’s day is their commute to and from work. The pressure of getting the kids to school, finding a time for breakfast and dealing with aggressive drivers late for their own appointments weighs on a person. Working from home allows employees to avoid that and keeps them in a better mood. Additionally, the time savings afforded often go towards work.
There is no question that working from home does mean certain things are organizationally more challenging, particularly in terms of creating a sense of togetherness and team spirit, and there are several things that we do to address that. First, from a tools perspective, it’s important to have a tool that allows immediate contact. We use Microsoft Teams, which allows chat, voice and video conferencing, as well as Whatsapp and Confluence for knowledge sharing. As far as sense of team, once a month we require all employees to be in the office for an all-hands day, which I think is healthy to make sure people are interacting, and it’s not all business; we sponsor a lunch, we bring in a guest speaker on topics of interest, it allows a forum for knowledge sharing and company updates, and that helps everybody remember that we’re part of the same company and the same team. We also invest quite a bit in team and company wide activities, be it an off-site, volunteer days or team building days. All of those are helpful in maintaining the togetherness and feeling of group amongst employees.
Additionally, there are challenges to not having our entire employee body in the same physical space. Sometimes there are conversations that take place in the atmosphere of the office that people can be in earshot of and benefit from, that you lose a bit when you’re not physically in the same place.
I’m often asked about monitoring our employees and their progress, and how we prevent abuse of the flexibility. I believe the issue of monitoring employee productivity exists equally in traditional office environments as well. To me, the critical solution is to have top notch managers, and it doesn’t matter if your employees are at home or in the office. They are the ones who stay on top of the pulse of what’s going on, touch base with their teams daily to make sure appropriate progress is being made, manage what their teams are working on and what issues they’re handling. A good manager will know whether they’re getting the expected output from their employees or not.
Beyond that, it’s been proven several times that rigid productivity metrics that serve the manufacturing world simply don’t apply to the world of software development. Measuring how many widgets an employee produces in an hour, does not translate in any way to the world of software, where somebody is writing a piece of software that never existed previously in the world. Unexpected events during the course of creative development, of building something new, are going to happen. Similar to an artist painting a picture, there isn’t any way to monitor productivity via hard metrics, such as lines of code written, or number of bugs introduced to production. When companies have tried any of these ways to measure productivity of software developers, they generally ended up having the opposite impact; employees end up producing to the metric at the expense of the best interest of the company. Therefore, whether it’s in person or remote, success relies on the manager being able to understand what they expect from a developer and being in touch with a developer on the day-to-day to make sure they’re getting it.
I truly believe that work from home is the future. Remote work is quickly becoming one of the most desirable benefits an employer can offer. Personally, I’m hopeful that the rest of the market continues to lag behind adoption of flexible work, because it sets us apart. Given that the technical world, especially in Israel, is so competitive, I imagine that some companies will wise up to this approach and start adopting it themselves, which is fine. I think it’s better and healthier for everybody. People get frustrated by commuting; people get frustrated by having to be stuck at a desk for certain hours when they don’t have anything to do. If this movement results in the entire country being in a better mood, then I’m all for it.