These days, everyone seems to be working remotely from his or her home office. If your organization has yet to offer telecommuting, or offers it only on a limited basis, you might want to take another look at the option.
Why offer the remote office option?
The advantages of telecommuting for organizations and their employees start with cost containment. An employee who does not need to go into the office spends less money on things like commuting, work clothes, dry cleaning or going out to lunch. In addition, organizations might be able to downsize space and supply needs, which may result in rent and other overhead savings.
Telecommuting tends to boost employee morale and satisfaction, which reduces turnover and may increase productivity. Offering telecommuting may make recruiting more successful, allowing you to hire top candidates regardless of where they live.
Some employers worry about telecommuters slacking off, but research suggests the opposite is true. A Gallup poll found that remote workers log an average of four more work hours every week than in-office colleagues do.
What should you work out in advance?
Effective telecommuting arrangements require careful planning and management. Organizations will need to address several issues and draft a telecommuting policy. An organization needs to take the time to develop a comprehensive policy with a team of human resources staff, managers and employees.
The policy should address eligibility, home office requirements and who will provide necessary equipment and supplies. It should also explain training, (for both telecommuters and their supervisors), work hours, communication, performance/evaluation and technology security. Employees approved for telecommuting should sign an annual agreement acknowledging the policy with expectations that it will be enforced. The policy should be reviewed and updated regularly.
How can you maintain good communication?
It is generally more challenging to effectively communicate with telecommuters. Both managers and employees must be proactive in this area. Organizations might find it helpful to establish standards for the times when managers or employees will be available, how promptly employees should respond to email or other communications, and similar matters.
Organizations will probably need to be more proactive about making telecommuters feel like part of the team than would be necessary for on-site employees. Managers can hold regular team meetings with remote workers whether by phone or video conference. This can make it easier for co-workers to bond than if they communicate only online or by phone. To build relationships and rapport, organizations might include some time for “water cooler talk” in these sessions. In addition, telecommuters should be invited to company events and added to regular communications, such as birthday lists.
What about the office staff?
Resentment can develop if employees consigned to the office question whether or not their telecommuting colleagues are truly pulling their weight. It is not unusual for an “us vs. them” mentality to develop.
Managers can keep a lid on ill will by using team meetings to publicly praise telecommuters and explicitly acknowledge when they are contributing to the organization. This can avoid the perception that they are not contributing. Between meetings, managers can send emails recognizing telecommuters’ work and copy coworkers.
It is not for everyone
Not every employee or job is suited for remote work arrangements. Telecommuting opportunities should be restricted to employees with strong communication, organizational and time-management skills. Ideally, telecommuting is for employees who have a proven record of working well independently.
Organizations should not base their decisions on factors like tenure or performance, but on the nature of the job—certain duties are more appropriate for remote work. Data processing, research and publications-related jobs do not necessarily require employees to be in the office. Positions that involve extensive interpersonal interaction, such as case or volunteer managers, are likely a poor match for telecommuting.