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Good Advice on Introducing a Telework Program

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Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits

More than 34 million Americans telecommute at least occasionally. While it might not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.

I've written two posts on telework this week, one on the Telework Enhancement Act passed by the U.S. Senate and another on a Brigham Young University study that found telecommuters could work longer hours than their office-bound colleagues before beginning to feel work was interfering with their personal lives. I've made it clear, through sharing my own experiences as a teleworker, that I think telecommuting is a win/win for employers and their staffs.

 

So let's say I've convinced some of you without existing telework programs to let employees telecommute. How do you know which employees are good candidates for telework, and what kinds of policies can help ensure telework is beneficial to all?

 

Even though it's written from the perspective of an employee seeking permission to telecommute, I think this post on the Tell-a-Worker.com site also offers valuable guidance for employers willing to let staffers give telework a try. "Giving it a try" is one of the keys to making a telecommuting program work. Author Yasuo Long writes:

Suggesting a trial run in the initial stages will also allow you to show your boss that you are capable of working remotely and also allow him the option of changing their mind if they feel like it isn't working out.

Dan Demaree, CEO of public relations company the DPR Group and one of the sources I interviewed for a story on telecommuting, agreed the ability to end a telework arrangement is important for employers. He told me:

Some people are very disciplined and work just as well at home as they do at the office. But from a practical point of view, some people don't. They are easily distracted and find it more difficult to maintain productivity. The problem is, the employer doesn't always know which is which. When you come up with a policy, you want to enable employees to telecommute, but you must have a provision to pull people back into the office if it's not working out.

Employers, establish a a clearly-defined trial period and follow up with a short meeting at the conclusion of the trial to find out if the telework arrangement is working and discuss any tweaks that may need to be made.

 

Long suggests workers who want to telework should exhibit above-average productivity at the office and be able to demonstrate increased productivity while working remotely. Those are good rules of thumb for employers to consider. Speaking from my own experience, I think folks who are highly self-directed make the best telecommuters.

 

Other items on Long's list can help determine which employees are good candidates. The second item, for example, is "I do most of my communication via e-mail and phone." Meredith Johnson, chief people officer at Gevity, a provider of human resources software and consulting services and another of my story sources, told me telecommuting doesn't work well for positions that require frequent face-to-face customer contact or access to in-office reference materials. On the other hand, she said, positions "that are heavy on computer work, require great concentration and have clear objectives" tend to readily adapt to telework.

 

Here are other applicable items from Long's list, with my comments in parentheses:

  • I will come in to work every Monday and when needed. These include meetings, training, and information gathering that I can usually deal with when I come in on Monday to report on work progress and also prepare for the coming week. (It doesn't have to be Monday or even every week, but it's a good idea to have a regularly scheduled day or days when employees are expected to be in the office. As Long points out, that's a great time to schedule meetings and progress reports. The BYU study I wrote about found a a mix of office time and telework, with employees changing the venue to best suit the tasks they need to accomplish, tends to make the most effective telework arrangement.)
  • I am less than an hour away in terms of physical availability and can be reached readily anywhere by phone and e-mail. (Though I think employees located more than an hour away can be good telecommuters, it's obviously important to be able to readily contact folks when necessary. Instant messaging is the way I interact most frequently with coworkers whether I'm at the office or at home, so I have a pretty seamless communications transition. If I won't be on IM for an extended period, I let folks know and make sure they have my cell phone number. )
  • I am available to come back in whenever a project that requires my physical presence needs to be done. (This should be clearly stated in a telework policy, so employees don't feel put upon when they are needed at the office.)
  • I have ... a desktop PC and laptop fully loaded with appropriate software, high-speed Internet connection and a dedicated work space ... and my own printer for drafts. (Employers will need to sit down with employees and determine what kind of gear is needed for employees to do their jobs and whether the employer will provide any of it. A previous employer provided me with a laptop -- for use both at the office and at home -- and paid for my Internet connectivity, but my current employer does neither. It's important to get everyone on the same page from the outset. A secure network is a must, a topic I cover in my story "Technology Helps Make Telecommuting Work.")

 

For more advice, check out the Telecommuting IT Checklist from IT Business Edge's Knowledge Network. I also shared a smart checklist for companies considering telecommuting from Gevity, the human resources specialist I mention above, in an earlier post.

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