These days, everyone seems to be working remotely from their home offices. If your organization hasn’t yet turned to telecommuting, or offers it only on a limited basis — for example, one day a week — you might want to take another look at the option.
Why offer the remote office option?
The advantages of telecommuting for you and your employees start with cost containment. An employee who doesn’t need to go into the office spends less money on things like commuting, work clothes, dry cleaning or going out to lunch. Plus, on the organization’s side, you might be able to downsize your space and supply needs. And that will result in rent and other overhead savings.
Additionally, recruiting may be more successful, allowing you to hire top candidates regardless of where they might live. And telecommuting tends to boost employee morale and satisfaction, which reduces turnover.
Productivity may climb, also. 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.
What should you work out in advance?
Effective telecommuting arrangements require careful planning and management. You’ll need to address several issues and draft a telecommuting policy. Take the time to develop a comprehensive policy with a team of human resources staff, managers and employees.
Your policy should address eligibility, home office requirements and who’ll provide necessary equipment and supplies. It should 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. Review and update your policy regularly.
How can you maintain good communication?
It’s generally more challenging to effectively communicate with telecommuters. Both managers and employees must be proactive in this area. You 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.
Employees who aren’t in the office can feel isolated and disconnected. Moreover, they miss out on a lot of the information that spreads through the workplace. To help make up for that, managers should have regular one-on-ones — whether by phone or video conference — with telecommuters.
You’ll 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 looped in by video. This can make it easier for co-workers to bond than if they communicate only online or by phone. Including some time for “water cooler talk” in these sessions can build relationships and rapport. In addition, telecommuters should be invited to company events and added to communications such as birthday lists.
What about the office staff?
Resentment can develop if employees consigned to the office question whether their telecommuting colleagues are truly pulling their weight. It’s 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’re contributing to the organization. This can avoid the perception that they’re just “goofing off.” Between meetings, managers can send emails recognizing telecommuters’ work and copy co-workers.
It’s not for everyone
Not every employee or job is well suited for remote work arrangements. Telecommuting opportunities should be restricted to employees with strong communication, organizational and time-management skills. Look, too, for employees who have a proven record of working well independently.
Don’t base your decisions on factors like tenure or performance but on the nature of the job — certain duties are just more appropriate for remote work. Data processing, research and publications-related jobs don’t necessarily require employees to be in the office. But positions that involve extensive interpersonal interaction (for example, case or volunteer managers) are likely a poor match for telecommuting.