4 Steps of Telecommuting

David Byrd
November 5, 2008 — 2,827 views  
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There's a relatively new trend in business that is making more and more sense with each passing day. Telecommuting wasn't really possible as little as five years ago, but with technological advances, it's almost negligent to not at least explore the idea for your company. If you do have employees that telecommute, or are thinking about creating such a program, there are things you can do to ensure success.

1. Selection It should be stated plain: Telecommuting is not for everyone. Some people need a structured environment. Others chafe at uniforms, schedules, and cubicles. You don't want to force anyone who enjoys working in an office to work at home. Nor do you want to force someone to spend their days in an office if they can be happier and more productive at home.

Speaking stereotypically, older generations feel more comfortable in an office. They like the security, the consistency, and the familiar nature of showing up to work. Younger generations, especially those just now entering the workforce, will prefer the flexibility and informality of a home office. Ironically, this generation is the most connected, most networked group of humans in all of history, and yet they have no problems being physically alone.

2. Guidelines The first objection that passes through any seasoned manager when faced with telecommuting employees is "how do we control them?" An employee working from home has no one looking over their shoulder. No one can see if they are at their desk or not.

This thinking is outdated and misplaced. If you have ever worked in an office before, you know that you can be at your desk and still not be working. An employee who doesn't want to work can do this from home or office.

The solution? Don't monitor the employee's physical presence or time spent "working," keep track of results. Many office jobs can be done from home and the gauge of success is the same: Did the work get done?

Your guidelines should be centered on results. When are reports due? How many calls need to be made an hour? When should the employee be logged in and out? Keep your eye on what the employee does, not where they are, or what times they are there for.

3. Trial Run As stated above, telecommuting is not for everyone. There are some people who try it and not like it, even if they thought it would be great. What most people don't realize is that when you work at home, you are alone. For the better part of the day, there is no one else around; no chance meetings at the water cooler, no hallway conversations. Some find they don't like the isolation. On the other hand, some find that they like it too much, and their work suffers for it. In most cases, you won't know how someone will do with teleconferencing unless you give them a shot at it.

When you do a trial run, keep things in perspective. Usually an employee is entering a scenario that is completely foreign to them. They won't know if they can truly motivate themselves, or stay sane. Give your new telecommuter two weeks to a month to give it a shot. If their work - or their sanity - suffers bring them back. Don't penalize them for poor performance; just get them back into the environment that they thrive in.

4. Technology The only way telecommuting makes sense in this day and age is through the use of computers and the internet. Make sure your employees have computers that are powerful enough, internet that is fast enough - no dial up - and a good landline. You may want to invest in a second, "work" phone line for their home office.

Email and a phone number won't cut it these days. If you have even just one telecommuter, make sure all of your employees are on an instant messenger service. They may not all use it, but it's invaluable to the worker that's alone.

Another good idea is to have a conferencing service handy. A telecommuter can't grab a few people and drag them into a conference room. They can however, throw together an impromptu conference call. They can integrate desktop and application sharing as well. If they have the tools, it can be just like walking into their office and letting them show you what they are working on.

The assembly line changed everything back in the industrial revolution. Telecommuting is not as big a step, but it is a major part of the vastly changing business landscape that we are experiencing today. Companies around the world embraced the assembly line because it made sense and made them money. Telecommuting to the extent that we do today is different, but ultimately - if done properly - it will make for a better work environment now, and in the future to come.

About the Author

David Byrd gives practical and usable advice regarding communication and meetings at AccuConference.
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David Byrd