Dear Annie:I lead a team of 12 brand managers, and some of them seem to have read your column about how to persuade a reluctant boss to let you work from home because lately I've been deluged with requests. The problem is, a couple of the people asking are those with the most seniority but who I think are not well-suited to working alone, away from the office. Meanwhile, one of my newer team members could make the transition easily.
From my own experience working from home at a previous employer, I know it takes a certain personality to telecommute effectively. Some people have it, and some other strong performers just don't. Do you or your readers have any advice on how to say "no" to some team members and not others without causing a lot of weird political tension here? I asked our HR department for help, and they just looked at me as if I had two heads. -- Besieged in Boston
Dear B.B.:You're certainly right that not everybody is cut out to do their best work home alone, and some people who think they'd like it end up with a bad case of cabin fever. Shani Magosky is CEO of Vitesse Consulting, which specializes in designing companies' telecommuting policies and practices. In her previous job, Magosky ran a firm where most of her 40-plus employees were scattered over 20 states and abroad. One of them "got all her energy and confidence from interacting with peers," says Magosky. As a telecommuter, "she missed that daily camaraderie so much that it turned out to be her downfall."
Pamela La Gioia, head of job site Telework Recruiting, points out that these days, "extroverts can rely on Facebook for some of that day-to-day interaction, since most people spend more time on social media than talking to their colleagues in person anyway."
Still, working alone demands a particular set of skills. "The most important one is, can you make a decision without input from anyone else?" La Gioia says. "Some people really struggle without daily supervision. They need that extra bit of pressure to do their best work," and they may not realize that until it's gone. "You also need to be extremely results-oriented, and assertive enough to push back when someone -- a neighbor, a child -- tries to interrupt your train of thought," she adds. "Working alone takes an extraordinary ability to focus. It's almost an entrepreneurial mindset of total commitment to the work."
"The most productive telecommuters are self-starters, and very well-organized," Magosky says. It helps, too, to be "comfortable with change and new technology. In my old job, I had a few people who were reluctant to learn to use new tools like collaboration software, and it was a real problem."
Seniority, Magosky notes, has nothing to do with any of this, and she thinks you're right to hesitate to say "yes" to every request. "Managers have to look at each person's track record," she says. "If you can see from someone's behavior in the office that they need a lot of supervision, or a lot of water-cooler socializing, or they have trouble meeting deadlines, then encouraging them to work from home is just setting them up for failure -- or for having to crawl back to the office, which is embarrassing, too."