Is Telecommuting a Good Fit for You (and Your Organization)?

Professional Services Management Ouderkirk, Jennifer VCIO Professional ServicesBy Jennifer Ouderkirk
Virtual CIO
Trivalent Group, Inc.

Teleworking….telecommuting….working remotely….outside in….welcome to today’s working world!

Advances in technology have made working from anywhere possible and in many cases, advantageous, both to the worker and the employer.  Who wouldn’t want to save commuting time and money and work from home?  What company wouldn’t want to keep their best employees regardless of where they want to work?

There are some considerations both the employer and employee should think about before jumping into this kind of arrangement:

Is the work itself a good fit for a remote worker? Not all work is.  Here’s a few questions to think about:

  • Can the work really be done from anywhere?
  • Will onsite time at the office or client sites be required often? Is that feasible?
  • Will the employee and the work benefit from working alone much of the time?

Is the worker a good fit? Even if the work is, sometimes the worker isn’t.  Both need to be the right fit.

  • Do they work alone well? Some people do really well, but others are inherently social and would not thrive in this environment.
  • Have they demonstrated a good work ethic? If not, their work ethic will be harder to manage from a distance.
  • Are they self-directed most of the time? If they need a lot of direction or management interaction, this may not be the best fit.
  • Do they have an effective work space where they plan to work? This is really important.  Ergonomics, focus, and productivity all come into play here.  Workers (and their employers) won’t be content for very long working from a laptop on their laps on the couch or at the dining room table.  If they like to work with 2 (or 3) monitors, make sure they can get that setup at home.

Do you have equipping technology in place? This is really a make or break.  If you don’t have it now, you’ll have to get it before “going live.” These tools are essentials, not “nice-to-haves,” in today’s working world if you want employees to be productive in your organization.

  • Phone/voicemail/headset with a company experience for the caller—i.e., a number on a business card that goes to a professional sounding phone/voicemail (no crazy personal ring tones! It’s better if you can pass caller ID all the way to your remote worker so they know who’s calling; VoIP technology can help with this. A remote worker can use a cell phone exclusively, but there are some challenges to work around.  They should have a noise canceling headset and enough battery life/sufficient data plan, etc. to get through their work day/month.
  • Conference call solutions for internal and client calls. It’s important that both sides can hear each other well.  Otherwise, time is wasted repeating things or calling back in for a better connection.  Moreover, people can’t really hear what is being said and therefore don’t get all the content.
  • Computer/network/reliable connections to all required files and systems. Working remotely should not be a punishment. It is important that remote workers have a mechanism to access their files and applications from any network connection without a lot of hassle.  However, PLEASE consider secure solutions for this.  You do not want your remote worker on a wide-open personal wireless connection accessing company data.  Consult with an IT professional to help with this, if needed.
  • Chat/presence capability within your organization and/or other contacts. Chat can be a huge productivity tool, allowing employees to communicate and collaborate quickly and easily. Boundaries can be put in place by a “Do Not Disturb” or “In a Meeting” status, but it is largely an effective tool.  The presence aspect allows workers in the office to feel more connected to the worker at the other end if they can see their presence is available (or not!).
  • Screen sharing for presentations, documents, and other items. Remember when people sent files for a meeting via email and everyone tried to follow along (“what page are we on?”)? Those days are gone! With the simple click of a button, the presenter can share their screen and documents, making it much easier for remote attendees to follow along and stay with the meeting.
  • Video conferencing options. Sometimes, it just helps to see people’s faces!
  • Other collaboration tools (e.g., virtual whiteboards)

Have you thought about a policy? If you haven’t, you should.  This policy should address these areas:

  • Expectations regarding focus and distractions:
    There can be more distractions at home (TV, dogs, kids). Which of these are acceptable? A worker typically cannot be effective at their job while also playing the role of a babysitter.  What about older children on snow days?  What about longer breaks?  What about sick kids?
  • Expectations regarding availability:
    How will others get ahold of them? Will they still have reporting hours?
  • How will you measure performance and whether this arrangement is a success?
  • How often will you require face-to-face company or client interactions?
  • Will employee expenses for travel to company HQ or client sites be reimbursed?
  • What geography are you willing to accept (e.g., time zones, in-state/out-of-state/out-of-country)?
  • Who is paying for the equipment/services for the employee to work from home?
  • What about remote worker envy—if they can do it, why can’t I?
    Be clear about which roles are (and are not) eligible for this working arrangement.

Are you committed to this working arrangement?

  • Consider a trial period.
  • How will you ensure your remote workers stay connected to the company strategy, mission, goals, operations, relationships, etc.?
  • It is easy for remote workers to virtually disconnect.
    For example, in conference calls, if they are always on mute and not asked to interact, not introduced, not asked for opinions, it is hard to stay connected.  Don’t make them feel like the remote workers in this conference call video:
  • This is a two-way street, so it’s important for the remote employee to purposefully remain engaged and not be tempted to multi-task or wander.
  • How will you make them feel like a part of the team and a part of collaborations?

If you’ve answered all these questions, and you feel it’s time to implement, here’s some operational details that need to be handled:

  • Cover courtesy rules with both on-site and remote workers for meetings.
    Make sure both sides use mute when necessary, always introduce yourself when speaking (unless all recognize voices, but don’t assume this), take roll call at meetings, and formally begin and adjourn meetings. Remember, the remote person may not be able to see who is in the room and who is not in the room, so tell them—it may make a difference in how they interact and what questions they ask.
  • Set expectations about availability with the remote worker and others who need to work with them.