Should You Let Your
Employees Work from Home?
Employers who want to reduce overhead and provide an attractive benefit to employees often wonder how to start a telecommuting program. When deciding if employees should have the option to work from home, managers should consider the company culture. Firms that focus on performance rather than attendance might find themselves more suitable for telecommuters than a business that has strict attendance rules.
In large organizations, different departments might feel more comfortable than other with telecommuting, and remote workers might fit particular jobs better than others.
To begin evaluating their company for the suitability of telecommuting, managers should ask some essential questions that can guide the decision-making process:
Does the employee need special or expensive equipment?
Jobs that require expensive or bulky equipment might not adapt well to telecommuting, because of limited space at home and the high cost of equipping each remote worker. Still, workers who have jobs that seem bound to the office can often telecommute on a part-time basis.
Does the employee work independently most of the time?
Employees who already work by themselves often make the best transition from traditional office environments to home-based work. Tethered to the company office by technology, these telecommuters can work from home as they worked in the regular office.
Does the employee work closely with other employees?
Although the requirement for close connections with other team members might seem to rule out telecommuting, employees can often maintain communications via telephone, email, video conferencing, instant messaging and other media while telecommuting most work days and then commute to the office for team meetings.
Does the employee need to be in a location so customers can find them?
Employees who service clients in a brick and mortar environment, usually cannot telecommute. Similarly, sales representatives who travel between customer locations will find telecommuting almost impossible.
Does the employee need to concentrate and work with only limited distractions?
The physical isolation and independence of telecommuters make them ideal for filling jobs that require intense focus and continuous work.
Does the employee manage other people?
Employees who supervise or manage other people often work best in a regular office, but the increasing popularity of telecommuting might combine with technological advances to enable managers also to work from home.
Is the employee dependable, performance-focused, and a good communicator?
When starting a new telecommuting initiative, managers should select reliable, self-starters who proactively communicate as their first remote workers. Although no one can guarantee the success, an employee will have as a telecommuter, but those who have good work habits have the best chance of success.
Does the employee have enough intelligence and experience to recognize when to ask for help?
With no supervisor physically presence in the remote office, the telecommuter must proactively provide status updates and ask for assistance when necessary to avoid wasted time and effort.
In summary, when contemplating a telecommuting program, managers should select employees who can feasibly work from home and have earned that privilege. Other questions a manager must answer while selecting employees for the transition to telecommuter include:
- How can I verify the employee’s qualifications?
- Will the company or the telecommuter furnish the needed equipment?
- How will work continue in the event of technical difficulties?
- How can I assess the performance of a telecommuter?
- What communication methods will work best for the office and remote worker?
- How can I track the telecommuter’s progress on projects?
- What common pitfalls might threaten the new telecommuter?
- How will coworkers react when one of their team members becomes a telecommuter?
By asking good questions, managers can help decide whether to allow employees to work from home and which employees make the best candidates. Before any further planning, however, the businesses should evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting, to make sure the new employment model will support the company’s mission.
Offers the Company
Telecommuting provides employers substantial benefits that support their mission and helps them build a quality workforce in the competitive environment. Telecommuting improves worker productivity by eliminating the stress of the daily commute, allowing flexible schedules and more personal time, and providing other quality of life enhancements, without increasing the cost of employment.
Reduced absenteeism and less time lost to sickness contribute to increased productivity for the company. The increased job satisfaction of telecommuters improves employee retention rates, reducing the deleterious effects of turnover. Businesses can also enjoy a competitive advantage in recruiting talented workers by offering either full time or part time telecommuting options.
Hiring remote workers can also help businesses because they can draw from an expanded labor pool. Telecommuting allows companies to hire remote workers from anywhere in the world, dramatically expanding their labor pool.
In the past, companies either had to draw from their local labor pool or pay to have qualified workers move to their area for employment. Nowadays, businesses can fill telecommuting jobs using a distributed workforce, located in different countries and regions around the world.
With telecommuting, companies can take advantage of modern, improved managerial styles that can unify the efforts of local and remote workers. For example, managers can orchestrate the efforts of large numbers of telecommuters, increasing business productivity and reducing management costs. Motivated and satisfied employees produce more and have more loyalty to their employers.
Telecommuting programs help companies slash overhead expenses such as floor space, heating and cooling, and electricity. While employers pay for the office space used by regular employees, telecommuters provide all the utilities for their office space. As a result, employers of telecommuters enjoy lower overhead than their competitors.
Finally, employers traditionally assume the costs for compliance with government-imposed workplace laws and regulations. Telecommuting, however, facilitates compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, dramatically reducing the cost of conformity to individual businesses.
Offers the Company
Regardless of the attractive benefits offered by telecommuting, businesses must accept some weaknesses when they institute a telecommuting policy. First, the cost of implementation can pose budgetary problems at first, especially if a company has only a minimal IT infrastructure in place. Although cloud technology has helped convert many IT expenses to monthly line-item expenses, companies often must buy routers, servers, and teleconferencing equipment before telecommuters can start work.
Individual employee work habits can also put the company at a disadvantage because some people might not readily adapt to working independently without the physical presence of a supervisor. Also, workers who exhibit exemplary work habits in the regular workplace might not maintain those standards while working from home.
When a company embraces telecommuting, some employees might consider it as a right, causing potential rifts if the company must rescind their telecommuter privileges. Other employees might consider telecommuting as an obligation, forced upon them by their employer when the employees would rather work in the company office.
In either case, managers must find ways to accommodate employees who feel disenfranchised by the new telecommuting policy. Although some workers do not exhibit the traits of the established telecommuter profile, and cannot, therefore, fill the role of the telecommuter, some employees have issues with telecommuting that have nothing to do with their character or work habits.
For example, some employees might have the capability to perform well as a telecommuter, but do not have space at home to set aside for a home office. Also, some people have complicated family situations that make working at home either impossible or impractical.
Some managers and executives within the company might hold hostile feelings toward the concept of telecommuting, creating internal power struggles that can threaten their entire organization. Finally, labor unions opposed to the practice of employing telecommuters can cause internal discontent, political opposition, and legal obstacles to telecommuting.
Although the disadvantages of telecommuting might dissuade some companies from embracing it, many companies will discover they can manage the difficulties, keeping in view the benefits they can enjoy. Those who decide to move forward will need to proceed with a careful, methodical process that can make telecommuting effective for their organization.
Setting up an Effective Telecommuting Program
As the company moves toward telecommuting as an employment alternative, they should set clear goals for the program. Companies should consider creating focus groups to help set realistic goals and gain the support of managers and workers at every level. The company can also use surveys and interviews to collect data that can help with the creation of effective policies. During the preliminary stages of the developmental process, managers can create test cases and pilot studies that will help guide them into appropriate telecommuting policies for their company. A comprehensive plan will consider all human, economic, and organizational factors that will affect the telecommuting program.
Creating a viable program for telecommunicates requires a five stage process. The exploratory stage already discussed represents the first phase. During the second, preparatory phase, managers should form a consensus about the operation of the program. The launching phase will involve informing the entire company about the new program. The fourth, experimental phase, will test the telecommuting program using real-world scenarios and volunteer telecommuters. The final stage, the assessment, will evaluate the success of the program and find ways to expand it, make it more efficient, and duplicate it for other divisions or branches of the company.
While developing a successful telecommuting program, those guiding the implementation must ensure that the project aligns with the strategic interests of the company. Managers must also involve company executives and devise a management method that will oversee all workers. They must also ensure that employees interested in telecommuting remain willing to abide by the established rules. Everyone involved in the initiative must remember that the company can alter or cancel the program.
As part of the implementation process, the company must complete a checklist of important activities:
- Identify a telecommuter coordinator.
- Create a committee to monitor the program.
- Publish a telecommuting policy.
- Define performance expectations for each telecommuter.
- Develop an evaluation plan for the program and each participant.
- Establish a reward system to incentivize productivity and conformance.
Creating a Telecommuting Policy
Effective policy guidelines for telecommuters crafted by a company should include relevant information that will govern the way telecommuters interact with the company at every level. The policy will also define what positions and categories of jobs can qualify for telecommuting and define eligibility criteria that employees must meet before they can telecommute.
Company policies for telecommuting must also determine minimum requirements for a qualifying remote office, including the equipment telecommuters must have installed or available at their remote office.
The company must also define maximum telecommuting days and hours for each employee as well as requirements for physical attendance at meetings and other events at the office. All employees must also acknowledge the right of the company to revoke their telecommuting agreement.
Other important components of an effective telecommuting policy include essential information that will govern remote workers:
- The purpose, definition, and scope of the telecommuting program.
- Eligibility requirements.
- The application and approval process for prospective telecommuters.
- Communication standards.
- Telecommuter training, responsibilities, performance reviews.
- Workspace requirements.
Company officials must use the established policy to select employees who meet the criteria of the telecommuting program. The selection process must evaluate the work habits and character of each prospective telecommuter in light of the position each worker has within the company.
The search for telecommuting candidates should focus on self-sufficient, highly focused employees having above-average organization skills, and have demonstrated the capacity for independent work. Those employees will most likely come from jobs that require critical thinking, writing skills, computer expertise, and telephone interactions with clients and coworkers.
People working in jobs that require constant supervision, or face time with supervisors, customers, team members, or the public will most likely not have the opportunity to telecommute.
Employees requiring access to sensitive information or bulky equipment will also need to continue commuting to the office. Instead, telecommuting will work best with employees who meet some essential criteria:
- Voluntarily telecommute.
- Possess self-motivation.
- Demonstrate good work habits and have a good employment record.
- Work well independently.
- Exhibit good time management skills.
- Have a qualifying home office.
- Interact well with others.
- Demonstrate required knowledge and expertise.
- View telecommuting as an alternative to the traditional work environment.
After laying a solid foundation for a telecommuting program, managers can move forward with its implementation.