Ombuds’ corner: Work at home

Just the word “telecommuter” is enough to make many managers start to sweat. When faced with the prospect of managing an employee they cannot even see, basic managerial knowledge often becomes hazy, resulting in a confusing arrangement for both manager and employee. As more and more of our world revolves around technology and an increasing number of jobs can be executed from an office at home , managers must learn how to adapt their leadership style to cater to both remote employees, and those working in the office.(1)


As the policy concerning working from home is described in the Operational Circular No 7(2), I will not describe it in detail but rather focus on the pros and cons of such a work arrangement, and most importantly on the discussion following a request and on the necessary mutual confidence between the manager and the employee. Of course, working from home is appropriate for some professions, but may not be possible for all of them.

Some 500 studies(3) about telecommuting have provided evidence that most people are eager to find a work-life balance and that 36% would prefer working at home to a pay raise. Professionals are often happier and a lot more productive when they work removed from the stresses and the interruptions of the workplace, working independently in their own environment at their own pace. Working from home results in fewer unscheduled absences, reduced stress, sickness levels and burnouts. Avoiding commuting and the improved attractiveness of the institution are also good arguments, among many others(3), in favour of working at home. Taking all considerations into account, the improved efficiency can be as high as 13-15%.

The main obstacles are management mistrust, career fears, co-worker jealousy and collaboration concerns. Telecommuting demands self-discipline to stay focused on the job, a good home-based organization and an aptitude for self-motivation, and so it is not suited to everyone.

Work at home calls for an improved communication between managers and employees. Their mutual expectations should be more precise, the arrangement should be finely tuned to avoid any conflict developing due to a lack of mutual trust. When working at home, employees should feel trusted and motivated by their managers and will therefore work harder to honour that trust. Unfortunately some managers still feel that the work at home cannot be put on the same footing as work in the office, just because they do not see their staff and consequently do not feel confident of their productivity. Sometimes managers may even impose checks on their employees which go much beyond what would be applied while working on CERN premises.

Work at home has been officially accepted at CERN, under certain conditions of course, and the managers should adapt their management style to those who submit a valid request to work partly at home. Thus, they should not a priori be suspicious nor should they introduce unjustified mechanisms for checking the amount of time spent people actually spend on their work at home. Definitive and conclusive organisational discussions should take place between the manager and the employee in order to avoid any misunderstanding on the work to be done and the objectives. This is the way of ensuring mutual respect, mutual trust, transparency and the best possible efficiency for CERN.

Work at home – along with its associated conditions – is part of official CERN policy. As much as possible, managers should consider adapting to it and employees should respect the agreed objectives. It is part of our strategy for a respectful workplace environment and in many cases promotes an improved work-life balance, which is conducive to enhanced overall effectiveness.

(1)Working from Home: Benefits for the employer”, Amelia Forczak, Marketing Manager, HR solutions Inc. eNews, March 2011, Chicago, USA.

Operational Circular No 7, Human Resources Department, May 2004.

(3) For example: “Costs and Benefits, Advantages of Telecommuting For Companies”, from Global Workplace Analytics - “Benefits for Organization” - “The advantages and Disadvantages of Working from Home”.

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by Vincent Vuillemin