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Published on February 3rd, 2014 | by Aira

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The Telecommuting Craze – Getting The Ground Rules Right

It seems that you can’t read a business magazine or look at a HR website at the moment without seeing an article on telecommuting. Essentially, telecommunicating is a phrase used to describe someone who works online from home or from another non-central location such as a coffee shop.  7.4% of the UK workforce are telecommuters. To fall in to this bracket an employee must work from home at least 1 day per week on a regular basis.  The number of telecommuters has steadily risen over the last decade as new technologies have been developed which have made staying connected even easier.

The Pro’s

-Cost Saving

Smaller offices, not so many parking spaces, less milk etc. There are many costs associated with employees that can reduce when they spend part or all of the week at home.

-Retention

Offering a talented employee the option to telecommute will stop them looking for another job if they ever need to r
elocate and make changes due to family considerations.

-Job Satisfaction

A recent study found that those who telecommute are more satisfied with their jobs than those who spend 40 hours a week in the office.

-Less Stress Causing Improved Performance

Employees who worked from home reported feeling less stress due to the fact they were no longer exposed to commuting or office politics.

The Con’s

-Collaboration Becomes More Difficult

Some of the best ideas get sparked off during a chat with a colleague at the watercooler or following a casual conversation at your desk. It is incredibly difficult to replicate impromptu moments like these on IM or over the phone.

-Awareness & Culture Disconnect

There is something incredibly submersive about the work environment. You can learn a lot about your job and the company just by being present, listening to the conversations that go on around you and
watching other people at their work. The telecommuter is not part of this environment and will often find themselves one step behind, potentially causing them to feel as though they are not part of the team.

-Hard to Manage

Whether it is keeping up to date with where a telecommuter is at on a current project or checking productivity and time management, it can be incredibly difficult to monitor the progress of someone who is not frequently present.

Identifying Suitable Employees

In order to make telecommuting work there are certain questions you should ask yourself in order to identify whether or not an employee would be suitable for this kind of arrangement.

-Can the employee communicate well through written channels?

IM and e-mail are normally the primary method of contact for most telecommuters. People who are notorious for blunt or abrasive email communication or silly IM chats may not be the best candidates.

-Is the employee well disciplined, organised and are they proven to work well independently?

It is much harder to supervise those who work from home and so you need to have confidence that they will get on with the job.

-Does the employee have suitable reasons for wanting to work from home?

Most employees want to telecommute due to family commitments or the need to be in a specific location but here will always be those who will see it as an excuse to take things easy.

-Will the employee cope with the isolation?

Despite your best attempts to make your telecommuters feel as though they are part of the team there is a chance that they may feel a little cut off socially. Employees who thrive on the team dynamic may struggle to adapt to the quietness of home working.

Things to Consider When Drawing Up Telecommuting Guidelines

Kick Off With Probation

If you decide to let an employee tele
commute for the first time then always start them off with a probation period. This should apply irrespective of how long they have worked for you or how talented they are. Different people respond in different ways to working from home. Some love it and take to it like a duck to water whilst others struggle to discipline themselves and strike a balance between their work and home life.

Define Periods When Everyone Must Be Present

There are some meetings that you just won’t get the best out of unless everyone is in physical attendance. Draw up a list of all the regular meetings your company holds and identify those which you need your telecommuting employees to attend. This could be a weekly team meeting, a monthly brainstorm or a quarterly review. Agree these meeting with your employee and then discuss how you will handle any ad-hoc meetings that come up which will require attendance. You could come to an agreement that you will provide
a certain amount of notice for general ad-hoc meetings as well as discussing a range of ‘emergency’ circumstances that would require immediate on-site attendance.

Set Expectations

Aside from email, many telecommuters will use IM or conferencing services to connect with their workplace. Define what time you expect your employees to be logged in to these services by in the morning as well as providing best practices for using them whilst at home (not sending distracting messages to other employees etc.).

You could also agree that your employee will send you a daily, weekly or bi-weekly progress report to provide you with information on the current status of their work. Some companies will also enforce the use of time logging software so that they can see a breakdown of where the employee has spent their time each day.

There will always be an element of trust required with telecommuting and you need to be careful not to bog your employees down in red tape because you desperately want to maintain control of what they are doing.  Consider agreeing on some criteria that must be met in order for the employee to continue working from home. This could be meeting certain deadlines or hitting an output quota.

About the Author: Vicky has worked on a number of law and HR related articles covering topics such as ‘what are compromise agreements‘, ‘A Guide to Flexible Working Arrangements’ and ‘A Managers Guide To Difficult Conversations’. In her spare time she enjoys reading, running and cooking Italian food! 

License: Creative Commons image source

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Aira manages blog post publishing for Mobopreneur.com.


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