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John Tory (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
John Tory (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

DRAWN OFF TOPIC

Talk radio host John Tory on employees working from home Add to ...

John Tory is a Canadian businessman and talk radio host, a former MPP and former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. He hosts Newstalk 1010’s Live Drive program on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Greater Toronto Area. He will be speaking at Toronto’s Empire Club on April 29.

Yahoo’s CEO recently forbade her company’s employees from working from home. Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson called that “old-school thinking.” With whom would you agree?

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If you get to the stage where a huge number of your employees never come to the office, you not only miss that creative exchange of ideas but you get people not feeling they’re on the team. But I think saying people have to be in the office all the time is also not right. There are many people who can work more productively from home.

In offices that are very open and don’t have walls, you can be less productive because there are always people coming by to chat. That’s good to a point, but the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. People are either producing results in their job, or they’re not. If they’re producing the results, aside from having them in from time to time to visit with their teammates, why do you care?

People who say you shouldn’t do it at all are barking up the wrong tree.

Branson also suggested that, in 30 years, there may not be any brick and mortar offices.

Having Skype conference calls is wonderful, but they’re no substitute for being in the room with somebody from time to time. As a salesperson, once in a while, you gotta shake their hand. I think there will always be an office where people gather. If you’re having a strategy meeting, it won’t work as well if you do it on Skype. It’s better if you’re all in a room together watching the body language, telling a joke.

Would an “employee” feel less of one if they were rarely, or never, in the office?

I think everybody recognizes whether they’re in the office or not, if they don’t post the results, they’re going to get fired. I don’t think anybody ever loses sight of that. If you do work at home, you lose a little bit of the team spirit. Assuming there’s a team spirit where you work.

Is it empowering to give employees the choice of where to do their work?

I think it is because it shows respect. The common assumption, of course, is you can’t have people working from home because they’ll slack off, they won’t get their work done, they’ll get distracted on a number of fronts. Saying to an employee, “Look, we trust you to get your job done at home because that’s why we hired you.” … If you think they can do the job in the office, why wouldn’t you think they could do it from home? I think to do otherwise is hypocritical.

I would think that unenlightened mangers would prefer to literally oversee their subordinates, see who’s doing what, when and how they’re doing it.

Well, that’s probably a manager who’s a bad manager. If you’re trying to micromanage somebody, you’re probably going to get worse results. You judge people by their results, by what they achieve. Do you really care where they do it?

Should an employee’s so-called work-life balance concern an employer, or just the bottom line?

It should be a gigantic concern. If you address it in the proper way, it can improve productivity. The people who work in the office [and are worried] about their child-care arrangements, about picking their kids up after school [are distracted]. If you’re working at home, then you know where they are and that they’re looked after. This is going to be a plus to an employer, a worker who isn’t worried about their kids.

Work-life balance is an important concern employers should be worried about because you’re going to get better results from employees [if you] respect that, respect that they’ve got another life. Again, within reason.

Can work from home be abused?

Oh, people can abuse any arrangement. People are given a driver’s licence. Some are abusive of that privilege by driving in a reckless manner. Other people are abusive of the fact that we allow you to go to the [liquor store] and buy whatever you want. Most people realize they will be judged on their results. If everybody was abusive of the thing, even if the company was carrying on, they’d probably bring those arrangements to an end.

And what of yourself? Are you more productive in a business suit or a bathrobe?

I rarely work in a dressing gown. If I’m working, I prefer to be dressed. But I can work productively anywhere – on an airplane, in an airport lounge, in my home, at a party – just go over into a corner. To me it makes no difference.

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