Professionals Working from Home

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a column by Sue Shellenbarger (subscription required) about professionals working from home.

This subject should be on the strategic planning radar screen of all companies with employees.  Here’s why:  in the decade from 2010 to 2020, there will be no net growth of the working age population.  That’s because the baby boomers will be leaving their working years, and their children (the "echo boom") will have already entered their working years.

If your long-run business plan has growth of the number of employees next decade, you will have to steal those employees from some other employer.  How do you do that?

I’m not sure how best to do that.  I’m pretty sure that you don’t know, either.  But I know the way to learn is to experiment.  Try some folks working from home.  Try hiring some retirees who get more flexible hours.  Try tapping into non-traditional labor sources, such as immigrant  communities.  Try using some high school grads where you previously used college grads.  Try different things, because there may not be one best strategy.  Even if one strategy proves best, you’ll have to work out some bugs.  You may find that if you hire work-at-homes, you need different hiring criteria, different monitoring systems, different compensation systems.  The time to work out the bugs is now.

I’ve talked about this in my speeches to corporate executives, and I don’t seem to get much traction.  I fear that many business leaders are thinking, "Yes, that’s a problem, but I retire in three years, so it’s not MY problem."  Actually, if a person is thinking that, he doesn’t deserve the label "business leader."  But if a business is to survive, someone at the top needs to sponsor some experiments to figure out how to deal with the labor dearth of the next decade.