How are area employers approaching work from home?

As big companies like Amazon and Apple come under fire for requiring their workers to come back to the office many smaller employers in this area - like most employers around the country - are themselves trying to figure out the best work-from-home policy that serves their businesses and employees.

Offering flexible work options has become an important way to attract and retain workers. But how flexible should they be? What's the best policy? Most business owners and managers are still trying to figure out the best approach for their companies. Here's what a few are doing.

No policy

Steve Auer, founder and CEO of Cadence, an events and trade show management firm based in Wheeling, says his company has no set policy for employees that want to work from home.

"We kind of handle everything on a case-by-case basis," he says. "It's one of the benefits of running a smaller firm as opposed to a big corporation with lots of employees."

Auer admits sometimes this can cause problems, particularly when one employee feels like another is getting better treatment, but for the most part the policy works because of the company's culture.

"Our attitude is that we hire people who know how to get the job done and are accountable to themselves," he says. "Our people have learned to lean on technology to collaborate on projects. We recognized that it's a lifestyle choice and we're happy to accommodate work-from-home on a case-by-case basis as long as the job's getting done."

Hybrid policy

Many companies are offering their workers the opportunity to work from home some days a week while still requiring them to be in the office for the remainder. Dmitry Rudman, a serial entrepreneur who owns multiple companies in the area, does just that for his employees at his primary business, a managed information technology services provider called Infiniwiz based in Palatine.

"We're not strictly enforcing how often people come to the office but we want our employees to come at least three days a week in order to keep the social aspect because there's nothing like doing face-to-face work," he says. "We also implemented, company lunches on Mondays and Fridays to encourage people to come to the office on those days."

Dmitry says he's big on setting expectations and making sure his work-from-home employees are setup the right way to be the most productive.

"You absolutely have to make sure those employees have reliable internet and good network connectivity," he says.

A work-from-home bank

One interesting strategy is being tried by John Nikolich, president and chief operating officer at Barrington-based LSC Development, LLC. His company offers its employees a "bank" of hours that can be used for work from home, in addition to their paid time off. Nikolich's situation is a bit unique: his company is in the commercial office space industry so he feels it's important for workers to spend time in the office. But he recognizes the reality of the labor market too and he feels "banking" the time provides a good compromise.

"We offer special summer hours," he says. "But we also tell our employees that over the course of the year and in addition to your vacation time, they get 10 days a year that can be used to work from home."

Nikolich says the days can be split into hours and can be taken whenever an employee wants.

"Everyone still gets their 80 hours in the bank to use," he says.

An either/or policy

Finally, some companies - like telemarketing services firm Quality Customer Service and Sales based in Deer Park - allows employees to decide whether they want to work fully from home or fully from the office.

"For us it's not a hybrid approach," says CEO and co-founder Cathy Karabetsos. "We give our employees the ability, based on their skillset, qualifications and ability to have an office in their home."

Karabetsos says her employees can choose what work environment is best for them.

"If they indeed choose and prefer a remote atmosphere, then that's what we're going to do," she says. "However, if they choose they want to take up a seat in the office then we're really excited about that too."

None of these approaches are right and none of them are wrong. All of them are subject to change and probably will as both employers and employees learn more about what work arrangement fit best.

How you determine the best work-from-home policy for your office depends on your culture and how you run your business. But it's something that needs to be addressed. Greater flexibility has become a significant demand for most workers and companies that don't provide these options are apt to lose out on great talent.

Gene Marks is a CPA who owns and operates The Marks Group PC, experts in customer relationship management technologies.

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