There has been plenty of discussion about telecommuting— and strong opinions both in favor of and against it— since CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to bring all remote Yahoo! workers back into the office by June of 2013. Other big companies in the news, like Best Buy, Bank of America, and Google, have made their telework policies more restrictive or have strongly encouraged employees to show up on-site, promoting collaboration through direct communication.
Despite news flashes to the contrary, U.S. Census data and other research shows us that the number of telecommuters in the United States continues to grow. There are real dollars-and-cents benefits to be realized, and it’s not small change. Why does it work so well for some companies, while others flounder or find it necessary to rein in their programs?
What kind of policies need to be put in place to ensure a telecommuting program gets off the ground and stays successful? Here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from reading what researchers and telework gurus have to tell us. I hope it gets the discussion started for your policy crafters, so that your company can embrace the benefits of teleworking.
1. Ensure buy-in from the highest levels on down
It’s important that everyone, company-wide, is behind your telecommuting program and that they are aware of challenges involved; armed with tools to keep things running smoothly.
Training programs, for executives, managers, and employees, and ongoing opportunities for feedback, will help your telework program become a positive ingredient in the company culture.
Strong support in the areas of technology and communications is big, too. This is the lifeline between a remote worker and the office. Because teleworkers are not attached to a desk and a desktop, the devices they use need to function well and be able to interact with the larger network, which requires up-front security planning and continued maintenance.
2. Clearly identify which jobs can telework
According to the Boston College Center for Work and Family publication, Advantages and Challenges of Telecommuting, some occupations are better suited for telework. They are, “…information-based and portable; require a high level of concentration; offer a high degree of autonomy; can be planned in advance and performed at varying times; involve minimal instruction, examination, and physical access to fixed resources; consist of creating/manipulating/disseminating information; and result in measurable output such as written reports or financial figures.”
Kate Lister and Tom Harnish of the Telework Research Network define the typical telecommuter as between the ages of 40 and 65, college educated, salaried, a non-union employee, earning about $58K a year at a company with more than 100 employees. This employee has earned management trust, and is not concerned about the effect of telecommuting on career advancement. They say that more people in management, professional, sales, and office work telecommute than any others. If that’s your bulls-eye, you need to define what the rings closest to the target are for your company.
3. Select employees suited for telework
It’s important to understand that neither every job nor every person is suited to working from home. Individual characteristics and circumstances need scrutiny.
Employees who telecommute need to be self-driven, and able to independently set and follow goals, with very minimal prompting. That means that they need to know their job responsibilities, have skill mastery, and have a good idea of how to work through projects.
Many companies require that an employee work on-site for a length of time prior to entering a telework program. That way they are able to learn the way things work in their company and build solid relationships with co-workers.
Teleworkers should be comfortable working alone, organized, and have the ability to focus. While different, distractions at home still exist, and will need to be worked through or avoided.
The employee, their co-workers and manager need to keep lines of communication open and use them liberally. And, bottom line: the work needs to be done, whether the employee is in the office or working at home, so they must be dependable and accountable for the work they are assigned.
4. Set acceptable parameters for home offices: practices and spaces
The living situations of your employees are probably as varied and individual as they are. A single person who lives in a small apartment will need to have a different set-up than a parent of four in a large suburban house. But you can broadly define what your company needs from teleworking employees and what your company will provide to help them accomplish what they need to. Here are some questions to answer as you set policy:
- Will the company have a say in where work is done? Many companies fully embrace the idea that work is not anchored to a location; others want or need employees tied to a specific place.
- Will the company determine work hours, or will the employee be able to work as best suits their environment and home responsibilities? This includes policies about day care for children and in many cases, elders.
- Understanding that many teleworkers tend to overwork at unhealthy levels, will the company offer resources to help the employee maintain separation of home and work?
- Will the company offer resources to help employees minimize distractions and set healthy boundaries with family and friends?
- What office furniture, equipment, and software will the worker need to do their job?
- What office furniture, equipment, and software will the company purchase, discount, or lend, and what will be required that the employee contribute? Who will be responsible for installation and maintenance?
- How will paper and digital filing be handled?
- Will the company require that the employee divide their time between work at home and work at the company site?
- What kind of individual or shared set-up will be provided for teleworkers when they are in the company office?
Armed with a sound, yet flexible, plan, policies outlining responsibility and accountability, plenty of communication, management who is on board and playing an active role, and company-wide support, your telework program can save money, attract excellent talent, and bring a better work-life balance to your employees.
The views expressed by contributors to the NBF Water Cooler are their own, and do not reflect the viewpoint of National Business Furniture and its affiliates.