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While one size doesn’t fit all companies or individuals when it comes to working from home, the coronavirus has forced businesses to adapt. For many companies, that adaptation will result in permanent changes to remote-work policies.  | Photo: Piqsels

I used to be old school when it came to working from home. I always thought it best to have the team together in the office to collaborate, synergize, and get things done.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out of the COVID-19 tragedy is how it has challenged the work-from-home paradigm. The pandemic has proved there are some jobs that truly can be done from anywhere, so long as there’s a robust internet connection and a phone.

Purchasing and supply-chain management professionals are a great example. Here are some things to consider when you think about (or rethink) how many of your team members can work remotely.

Tech Advancements That Enable Remote Work

Technology has developed to a point where a team member can access the ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, share files in the cloud, and collaborate with other team members online. Secure ERP connections provide the same access from home that you get in the office. Cloud applications from Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others allow team members to work on shared files at the same time and access one another’s work product from anywhere they have an internet connection.

There are also many good collaboration tools out there such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting. These applications allow team members to video conference, chat, and share anything that’s on their computer with other team members. Technology is effectively shrinking the world we live in, making it more accessible from a distance.


Bottom-Line Benefits of Employees Working From Home

There are many benefits to employers that allow their team members to work remotely.

1. Space: These businesses require less office space, which can save thousands of dollars in monthly rent and utility expenses.

2. Morale: Employee morale is improved as staff spend less time in traffic and at the water cooler.

3. Retention: That improved morale from being trusted to be productive at home leads to reduced turnover, which means fewer recruiting expenses and improved efficiencies associated with a fully trained workforce.

4. Productivity: Because there are fewer people stopping by each others’ offices or cubicles just to chat, employee productivity improves.

5. Recruiting: Another benefit is the ability to attract new talent. Many companies have now made working from home a permanent option. I’ve read that some team members are willing to take a lower salary to work from home. Personally, I wouldn’t, but in my experience, Millennials and Gen Zers are looking for greater workplace flexibility than previous generations, so they may go for the salary/work-from-home trade-off.

The real question is: Will companies be more—or less—competitive for purchasing and supply-chain talent if the only option is to work in an office? My guess is they’ll be less competitive.

Lowering Risk and Ensuring Employee Safety

There is also a risk-mitigation aspect to consider and a case to be made that employees are safer working from home.

In the current world, in-office workers confront everything from the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, workplace violence, and accidents like slipping and falling in an icy parking lot. Ever had an employee come to work with a cold or the flu and, before you know it, others in the office are getting sick? Why risk the hit to productivity if you don’t have to?

There is also an environmental aspect to consider. Look at the smog index in major cities during the coronavirus crisis. Fewer cars on the road equals less smog, which leads to improved air quality. This dynamic also reduces the consumption of natural resources and saves money.

There is also a productivity piece here as well: With fewer cars on the road, delivery trucks spend less time in traffic, and there has been a corresponding drop in traffic accidents ... to the point where many auto insurance companies have dropped their rates or provided rebates to their policyholders.

Remote Work: Not for Everyone or Every Job

Working from home isn’t for everybody. There are critical roles that must be performed in the office or on the jobsite. Even purchasing and supply-chain professionals need to spend some time in the field.

In other cases, some people lack the self-discipline to be successful in an unstructured (at home) environment, which is all about routine. The work day start sand ends at the same time as the office, and that goes for breaks, too.

Will companies be more—or less—competitive for purchasing and supply-chain talent if the only option is to work in an office?

Also, remote workers need a quiet workspace, ideally a dedicated home office, not in a common area with kids, pets, and other distractions.

Remember, you’re paying employees for a good day’s work, and working from home is still a privilege. All that said, I’ve seen firsthand how much more productive some people are when they work from home. It really comes down to the individual. Some will excel remotely and some will not.

Remote Work vs. In the Office: Metrics for Measuring Performance

Be sure to have good productivity metrics in place for your remote team members. I’m accustomed to having project management and efficiency tools at my disposal, especially with the national-level responsibilities I’ve had for most of my career. I’ve always needed visibility of internal customer requests as well as day-to-day task tracking to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Monitoring projects that are completed on time and on budget can be a valuable tool as you compare the productivity of the team in the office with the productivity of those working remotely.

You also need metrics to track the performance of every team member. Productivity tools are great, but if someone’s just churning out poor quality work, then what’s the point? Both productivity and effectiveness metrics enable you to compare the work performance for the same job function from one team member to another.

The bottom line is, the work must get done. Productivity and effectiveness tools can help you identify those who lack the self-discipline to work from home. For those team members, get them back into the office setting as soon as you can.