A recent Personnel Psychology study observes that telecommuters are generally more productive than office workers.1 Similar research shows the majority of managers believe telecommuting retains talent.2 Thus, in many respects, work-from-home employment models can contribute to business continuity and progress.
Telecommuting programs help save businesses money, too. According to Global Workplace Analytics, unscheduled absences represent $1,800/employee in losses each year.3 Telecommuting shrinks absence rates by 63%, reducing said losses a great deal. Moreover, telecommuting cuts overhead expenses.
Regarding distance, telecommuting opens the talent pool for recruiting. Businesses can hire employees in distant cities (or even countries) as if local to them. In broadening the workplace, businesses also prevent social conflicts. Particularly, telecommuting reduces visible discrimination and fosters greater collaboration between teams and departments.
Businesses Meet Rising Demands for Work-from-Home Opportunities
Telecommunication adoption rates continue to climb in North America. Since 2005, the work-from-home population has grown over 103%. As of 2014, 2.5% of the total workforce worked remotely at least half of the workweek.
Interestingly, those not telecommuting are now expressing interest. Global Workplace Analytics estimates 62% of employees would take a pay cut to telecommute. Likewise, 36% would prefer to telecommute rather than make more money.
Types of Telecommuters
For many businesses, there is no choice but to implement a telecommuting policy. Perhaps not for the day-to-day, but most businesses need that flexibility at some point. One example is travel. More businesses deal abroad, so fewer workers operate from one location.
As described above, telecommuters typically fall into one of three categories.
- Casual: The employee comes into the office sporadically to check in and submit work. Some individuals begin on a loose schedule, slowly migrating to the home.
- Remote: The employee does not live locally; he or she must rely on the internet and its tools to perform.
- Mobile: The employee travels throughout the workweek. This includes those who go to see clients and bounce between company office locations.
Each telecommuter type above comes with its own challenges. For this reason, it’s paramount to consider how an employee fits into any one category. Not everyone finds the arrangement agreeable. The work-from-home model doesn’t suit every job either. Businesses must design telecommuting policies based on the position and person.
Some individuals lack the motivation to work independently. By their nature, they rely on others to question, brainstorm, learn, and produce. Similarly, some jobs need human interaction. Others require resources only available on site.
Top Telecommuting Concerns to Redress
A poorly structured telecommuting program can injure a business. From losing money to damaging the brand, the potential for harm is not something to overlook.
Primarily, employer apprehension over telecommuting stems from two places.
- Management: How will managers oversee their telecommuters?
- Technology: What tools will make telecommuting a feasible business model?
At the core of any telecommuting program is trust. Employers need to trust that workers will remain accountable for their time and responsible with their freedom. The following sections discuss methods for fostering such trust.
Tips on Implementing a Telecommuting Policy
The most critical component of any telecommuting program is communication. Without it, the workforce drifts apart and heads in opposite directions. Employees who operate outside of the office need to feel as much a part of it as those who travel in every day. This means informing them of news and celebrating successes as a team.
Either physically or virtually, team meetings should happen at least once a week. Morning check-ins are an excellent way to kick-start the day and keep workers on track, too. Focus on goals and accomplishments; remote workers need on-going tasks to schedule around. Logging progress should be mandatory.
Communication, in many ways, relates to corporate culture: “The beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.”4
The best way to acclimatize employees to the corporate culture is to get to know them. If new recruits live nearby, implement a probation period. Never jump straight into a telecommuting program if avoidable. Easing into one increases the chances the employee will adopt the values and objectives of the institution.
Interestingly, some office managers claim corporate culture improves alongside telecommuting initiatives.5 They argue that telecommuters avoid conflicts in the office. More importantly, such workers are not involved with office politics that strain relationships.
For relationship building, invite employees to events like staff dinners and office gatherings to reinforce a sense of community. Holiday parties, product launches, and other special occasions provide great opportunities for bringing teams together. Similarly, offering unique incentives like theatre tickets encourages employees to interact.
Protect Your Data
Data privacy and security are problems many companies face. Owning a mobile workforce exposes company resources to a variety of untested, untrusted environments. For example, company laptops on open Wi-Fi networks and smartphones synchronized with corporate web-portals.
To prevent data loss, every telecommuting program should include a privacy/cybersecurity clause. It should outline the following:
- Standard security protocols to which all employees must adhere;
- Restrictions on where business-allocated devices can go and to which networks they can connect;
- Instructions on how to handle and communicate sensitive information outside of the workplace (i.e. non-disclosures);
- Employee/company liabilities.
Set Expectations and Requirements
Businesses often specify criteria to define an employee’s eligibility for a work-from-home position. The tools itemized on the list should enable the worker to complete his or her duties efficiently and safely. The list below is a sample to base your own criteria on.
- UC tools such as video conferencing, VoIP, instant messaging, cloud storage, email, and more
- Laptop/PC hardware and software specifications (i.e. software suites installed at the office)
- Reliable, high-speed internet for uninterrupted work
- Printer/scanner for transferring documents
Although free to work remotely, consider adding workplace approval into the telecommuting program. This involves checking that a worker's setup meets all requirements. It verifies that it fits within the parameters of the company’s insurance policy, too.
Setting approved workplaces guarantees that workers stay available. It limits them from adopting a nomadic work schedule. It also eliminates variables that might pose security risks.
Regarding worksites, accessibility need addressing as well. For example, should the employer have the right to visit or modify the worksite? Which company-owned resources will belong to this location? Ask such questions as you see fit.
Measure Employee Success
When telecommuters slack, it undermines the policy and dismantles the system. Worse, it provokes feelings of resentment and inequality. By implementing performance metrics, all employees must meet fair benchmarks and produce quality work.
For the first few months, do not pit telecommuting metrics against office ones. The two groups are too different in the initial stages to compare accurately.
Instead, run a pilot program with veteran employees who will report their challenges and successes fairly. Refrain from implementing a telecommuting program company-wide before testing it. Doing so will iron out the details in the contract.