Starting the Telecommuting

After employees have reviewed the details of the telecommuting program and decided whether they should participate, the program can begin. As employees begin telecommuting, they will initially need much support from their managers and supervisors as they adapt to the new way of working.

By providing robust support during the early stages of the program, companies can increase the success rate of telecommuters, ultimately reducing implementation costs. Employers can proactively provide support to telecommuters by sharing details of the program’s development and ongoing implementation.

Well-publicized training opportunities can facilitate the development of skills needed for independent work and communication. Routine policy, procedure, and technology updates can also help telecommuters succeed, by making sure everyone has the necessary knowledge and tools to perform their duties. Regularly scheduled online staff meetings should help remote workers get their questions answered in real time.

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Meetings can also give telecommuters a chance to share their experiences with coworkers and learn from the experiences of others. While spending a lot of time with telecommuters will ensure the success of the telecommuting program, managers and supervisors should make a deliberate effort to spend equal amounts of time with regular employees, helping them get adjusted to working with off-site coworkers.

Employers should also consider holding hybrid staff meetings that allow virtual and in-person attendees. By allowing telecommuters to participate in team meetings with their counterparts in the office, everyone feels like a valued part of the team. Most of all, employers should emphasize equality among all employees.

Training Telecommuters

Companies implementing a telecommuting program should never underestimate the value of training. Training will ensure that telecommuters know all applicable policies and procedures, keeping everyone aware of the expectations and requirements of the telecommuting program. Training will also make sure that all remote workers understand the technology they have available to support their work. By reducing the number of potential problems, training helps make telecommuting a positive experience for the entire company.

Before establishing a training schedule, managers should set training objectives. General objectives include the communication of telecommuting policies, techniques for successful telecommuting, and the supervision of telecommuters. As the program begins, companies should plan to have telecommuters spend their first days or weeks in company offices, undergoing training. After each employee completes initial training, managers should create a schedule for in-person follow-up that fits the employee’s individual schedule.

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Training requirements should never surprise employees, so managers, supervisors, and training personnel should always establish requirements well in advance, so everyone involved can properly plan. Additionally, employers should use a system of email notifications, invitations, and reminders to help telecommuters plan to set aside time for training.

Overall, companies have five methods available to them for engaging their remote workforce:

  • Personalized learning - Companies should make reasonable accommodations of the individual learning preferences of their telecommuters. Personalization can involve the presentation of every learning objective in multiple formats or the rotation of different learning methods, giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from training programs.
  • Learning support managers - Every company should have at least one manager employed to support the training effort. Learning support managers should facilitate the implementation of relevant training and educational opportunities throughout the enterprise.
  • Social networking - Social media is a very effective option for facilitating e-learning, delivering content and promoting discussion. Online interaction with colleagues can be increased through social media such as blogs, wikis and chat programs.
  • Instant messaging - The accessibility of all employees via instant messaging applications can facilitate the exchange of questions and answers, images, and files. All workers can use their IM apps to display their status, making it easy for coworkers to determine availability, regardless of whether they work inside or outside the company office.
  • Technology - The latest software applications for collaboration and project management help bridge the gap between workers at headquarters and remote workers. Additional hardware and software technology unique to a task or industry can also serve to integrate telecommuters with the rest of the organization. Through company intranets, chat, video calling, and video conferencing, companies can take proactive measures to make sure telecommuters feel socially integrated into the corporation.

With a combination of all five tactics, companies can fully engage their telecommuters in their daily operations. By almost any measure, a successful telecommuting program depends on the efficient use of available technology. Companies should commit to an ongoing investment in the latest technology to ensure the continued success of their telecommuting employees.

Ensuring Successful Telecommuting

Every company that chooses to accept telecommuting should consciously seek to support its success. Telecommuters, their managers, and their coworkers have all undergone significant changes in the way they work, presenting many chances for failure and success.

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Employers should take deliberate steps to support the success of their telecommuting program:

  • Trust telecommuters and demonstrate that trust by assigning challenging projects that require a strong performance. Managers who continually doubt the capabilities of their remote workforce can degrade morale and weaken the telecommuting program. Instead, supervisors should exhibit confidence that their telecommuters will complete their work in ways that enable the company to get deliverables to customers within time and budget constraints. Through routine status updates, workers and managers can discover problems as they occur and find ways to resolve them, regardless of whether they work in the company office or at home.
  • Include telecommuting and telecommuters in surveys and evaluations. When designing tools intended to gather input from employees, keep telecommuters in mind. Companies that collect opinions and other feedback only from employees in headquarters lose the valuable insight of remote workers and risk them feeling alienated or left out.
  • Consider every issue from the perspective of a telecommuter. Managers must guide themselves into a modern mindset that accommodates the way telecommuters work, think, and feel.
  • Understand the time and resources required to complete tasks. Managers who consider telecommuters as black boxes in which to dump tasks and magically get results do themselves and their employees a disservice. Although telecommuters can perform some tasks more quickly at home than they could at the office, tasks still take time. Executives, managers, and supervisors should set realistic expectations for the amount of work that telecommuters can do in a particular period.
  • Include telecommuters in daily activities and when setting goals. Telecommuters should contribute to the development and achievement of company goals and team objectives. Develop ways to involve telecommuters in team collaboration and decision making.
  • Fairly assign work to telecommuters and regular workers. Employees in the company office might feel mistreated if they perceive that their telecommuting counterparts have a lighter workload than they have.
  • Involve telecommuters in the daily operation of the business, so they always feel well-informed and up-to-date. Firms that want telecommuters to feel like valuable players on the team must treat them as valued team members. Employers can make telecommuters feel included by integrating them in the daily operation of the company.
  • Combat feelings of isolation by creating a virtual water cooler using a shared email folder or company intranet. Employers can set defined times for visiting shared virtual break rooms and participating in a simple dialog that can develop human connections between telecommuters and their counterparts at the office.
  • Regularly communicate using all available methods including phone, email, instant messaging, and online meetings. The implementation of a telecommuting program requires the development of multiple communication channels. Companies must deliberately utilize all forms of communication available to ensure communication between local and remote workers.
  • Stay flexible enough to vary the frequency of telecommuting for each employee. As time elapses, companies will discover that some telecommuters need to visit headquarters more often than others. Employers and employees should prepare to vary the amount of telecommuting to optimize the program for each employee.
  • Adjust policies and procedures when needed to accommodate remote workers. Mandatory meetings and other requirements can disrupt the lives of telecommuting employees. Companies should build enough flexibility into their operation so that they can support a dynamic workforce.

Most of all, employers must keep an open mind about telecommuting. Managers should periodically telecommute, so they can experience and understand the issues facing telecommuters.

Managing Telecommuters

Although remote workers have distinct needs that result from their distance from the office, the same principles of management apply to them. For example, every employee should have a list of performance requirements, so they know what their employer expects from them.

Managers should include the telecommuter in the process of setting objectives, just as they would do for a regular employee. Other management requirements might also sound familiar:

  • Create a chart or graph that clearly defines what the telecommuter needs to do to rate well during performance evaluations. Having a quick reference available can help everyone stay focused on their goals.
  • Explicitly state expectations. Unspoken assumptions can damage relationships and derail telecommuting programs. Executives, managers, and employees should rephrase and restate their understanding of expectations so that the company can work as a unified team.
  • Put agreements in writing, and make sure the employee has a copy of them. Even in an atmosphere of trust, people can misunderstand or forget about oral agreements.
  • Offer immediate praise for doing a good job. Employers who reinforce good work will get more good work and loyalty in return.
  • Rather than let problems fester, honestly, discuss concerns as they arise. Take the time to address inconsistencies as they occur to keep minor issues from becoming serious setbacks.
  • Stay accessible to telecommuters through multiple forms of communication. Use every available channel to keep telecommuters "in the loop."
  • Get feedback about telecommuter performance from coworkers and clients. Find out the attitudes and perceptions of on-premises workers and adjust policies and procedures to help them feel good about working with telecommuters.

Managers must trust their telecommuters, at least until concrete problem signs emerge. As a sign of confidence and respect, managers should recognize established meeting schedules and make efficient use of meeting time. Similarly, managers must adhere to the review process they agreed to as part of the telecommuting agreement.

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Appropriate performance measures must gauge telecommuter performance, so neither they nor their counterparts at the company office feel either neglected or unfairly treated.

Overall, managers in companies that embrace telecommuting must concern themselves with unifying their workforce into cohesive teams that collaborate and communicate. By achieving that goal, management can deliver tangible performance and cost reduction benefits to their firm.

Monitoring and Evaluating Telecommuters

Companies have an obligation to monitor and evaluate telecommuters. Despite the thorough vetting process that carefully selected telecommuters, some might have difficulty adjusting to work without constant supervision. Whether directionless or tempted to ease up on their workload, telecommuters having trouble adjusting to their new style of work need prompt intervention, so employers must have a way to monitor work in progress and periodically evaluate the work done by telecommuters.

Part of the performance monitoring process should involve the periodic exchange of feedback between telecommuters and their supervisors. Such exchanges help telecommuters and managers make ongoing, mutually beneficial adjustments that can improve the efficiency of the telecommuting program.

Also, employers that include telecommuters in existing programs that track employee tasks and online activity should interpret collected data in light of the flexibility telecommuters have to balance their personal and professional life.

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When evaluating telecommuters, managers should focus on employees’ results rather than on their activities. The quality and quantity of work performed as well as timeliness and cost effectiveness should form the basis of ongoing evaluations for all employees, not just telecommuters. Managers should not hesitate to customize performance evaluations to particular jobs and employees to make sure everyone has a fair and objective review.

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Although the ongoing evaluation of employees and their managers can improve the success of the telecommuting program, managers and executives should closely evaluate the effectiveness of their program as a whole.

Consider critical issues such as productivity, operating cost, morale, recruitment and retention of the program. Company officials should also evaluate the impact of telecommuting on external factors such as traffic flow, air pollution, and mass transit as part of a community effort to improve the environment.