With gas prices rising and employee demands at home increasing, more and more employers are offering telecommuting as a flexible work option.
So what is the definition of telecommuting?
The term telecommuting was coined by Jack Niles in 1973 and is basically an arrangement with an employer and employees in which employees are allowed flexibility in where and when they perform their job tasks.
There can be many strategic implications of telecommuting and senior leaders need to determine the business case for creating an employee telecommuting program.
There can be many benefits with telecommuting but there can also be disadvantages and problems that need to be managed.
According to a SHRM Employee Benefits Survey, 17% of employers offer full-time telecommuting, 34% offer part-time and 44% offer telecommuting on an Adhoc basis.
As employers expand non-traditional work options, there needs to be thought, preparation, and policies put into place in order for telecommuting to be a win-win for both the employee and the employer.
Creating a system and structure to manage employees is critical to having a telecommuting model that works.
A poorly designed or managed system can have a negative impact on the organization, so employers need to ensure that a telecommuting program fits their particular business model as not every job is appropriate for virtual work.
Making a business case for and doing the research before implementing a program can save headaches and unforeseen issues down the road.
Benefits of Telecommuting
There can be many benefits with telecommuting but some of the common ones are:
- Improved recruitment and retention.
- Increased employee satisfaction scores.
- Improved employee work-life balance.
- Increased productivity (if managed properly).
- Reduced costs on office space and utilities.
- Employee availability on snow days or other low attendance workdays.
Disadvantages of Telecommuting
- Difficulty in keeping employees connected to the culture of the organization.
- Costs for technical support can be higher because of employees working in a less controlled environment, ie: family members with access to work equipment.
- Staying connected and supervising employees who work from home can be a challenge for managers.
- Capitalizing on lulls in job tasks in between big projects is more difficult to manage when an employee is working from home than when a worker is in the office.
7 Tips for Creating an Effective Telecommuting Program
1. Choose the Right Technology
Having the right technology to manage performance is important to ensuring work is performed as outlined in expectations.
2. Clear Job Description
Create a detailed job description that reflects all job tasks and expectations for service and productivity.
Job descriptions should be reviewed and updated at least on an annual basis.
3. Clearly Communicate Expectations
Employees need to know what is expected of them and have a clear understanding of any boundaries.
This should be done first verbally and followed up with written communication.
Expectations should also be revisited during performance appraisal time.
4. Job Measures
It is important to be able to monitor performance and create measures to track productivity.
There are many software programs available to measure productivity and should be researched according to the industry.
I’m a firm believer that employees can never receive too much training, especially if someone works somewhere other than the office.
A thorough training program would require all new employees to spend time learning and performing the job at the office before being released to work from home.
6. Communicate and Communicate
Communication needs to be in overdrive when managing a virtual workforce and managers need to put communication systems in place to ensure consistent and thorough interactions with employees.
7. Reward Systems
Every performance management system needs to have a good reward structure but this is even more important for a workforce that is virtual or one that telecommutes.
Create rewards that are tied to result-driven goals to ensure corporate objectives are met.
When deciding and selecting which workers should telecommute, look for employees who are self-disciplined, self-starters, take initiative, and have good written and communication skills.
Employees who need to be told what to do or the antisocial introvert who you would expect to be the logical fit is often not the best candidate for a telecommuting position.
Virtual work and telecommuting is expected to only increase.
Organizations should take the time to create a system and process that works within their industry and create the policies and procedures to ensure a happy yet productive workforce – regardless of where they perform their job.
Does your organization have a telecommuting program?