How to evaluate an employee telecommuting program

There’s a new American Dream, and it’s called “working from home.” For many employees and professionals in the United States, one of the most ideal job arrangements is one in which they choose their own schedule and work from the environment in which they are most comfortable—that is, their own house or apartment. Telecommuting, or simply running a business from the “home office,” is now quite in vogue—and this is no surprise.

After all, working from home is tantamount to a dream come true. Indeed, there’s little that sounds more attractive to a worker than being able to roll out of bed, take a few steps down the hallway and, then, just simply, “be at work.” There’s no commute, no dressing up and no supervisor standing over one’s shoulder, monitoring a project every step of the way. And for new families, the desire to work from home is even more pressing, considering that babies and young children won’t have to be sent off to the daycare when at least one of the parents is always around, working.

Many companies have opened up the option for their full or part-time employees to work from home. Instead of commuting by car or train, employees get their work done on their home PC, thereby effectively “telecommuting” to work. Telecommuting really only became a widely available option for workers a decade or two ago when the rise of Internet and company intranet systems became usable and effective for employees to work with.

In efforts to expand and maintain top talent in companies’ workforces, employers have been experimenting and implementing a wide variety of techniques to further create incentives for workers to remain loyal to their employers. With the availability of telecommuting, human resources managers have yet one more option at their disposal for molding the ideal job offer to fit the needs and aspirations of prospective workforce talent.

And since it has been found that one of the best ways to ensure that a talented employee stays on board with a company is by creating an amenable and comfortable work environment, many employers and human resources professionals have taken to opening up certain job positions to telecommuting. Depending upon the company and the specific job in question, certain telecommuting arrangements have given the employee the option of working entirely away from the office, while others involve telecommuting part of the time, and working onsite for the remainder of the 40 hour week.

Yet despite the dream-come-true effect that accompanies a job offer involving telecommuting, this arrangement can pose certain obstacles for a human resources manager, as well as an office supervisor or, for that matter, anyone managing the workflow that a particular employee is responsible for. Indeed, if it is going to be used right, telecommuting is a solution that must be applied effectively. Finding out whether or not telecommuting is right for your business is a critical first step in opening up this option to current employees and prospective workers.

One of the most important characteristics of telecommuting is the human side to it. As with many promising new technologies, the utopian ideal of greater comfort and productivity is, to a certain extent, belied by the natural tendency for the people involved to lean toward misuse or inefficiency. This is indeed partially true of telecommuting—it is only as effective as are the humans who carry out the process.
If a certain individual is highly motivated while working at home, then telecommuting can actually help a manager see a higher level of productivity. Yet if the worker is easily distracted at home, then he or she may be better suited to the office environment.

From a human resources perspective, it is important to take this highly obvious analysis just provided and push it a couple steps further in order to develop a clear and consistent plan when it comes to implementing telecommuting as a viable strategy in recruiting talent and creating a productive work environment. Yet before pursuing a telecommuting strategy, it is important to determine whether or not this option is worth considering in the first place. To start with, let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of opening up the telecommuting to a company’s workforce:

Some Advantages Include:

  • greater recruitment incentive for top industry talent
  • less commute time for workers means higher energy levels and more willingness to spend time working
  • less office space requirements for full time telecommuters, more desk sharing for part-timers

Some Considerations Include:

  • decreased ability to coordinate tasks
  • more time spent emailing, calling and teleconferencing with home workers
  • less cohesive work environment, lacking in a certain “team spirit” that can only be achieved by working together in person.

If it is determined that your business could make use of a well applied telecommuting program, then it is extremely important to implement the plan clearly and effectively so that miscommunication, lack of productivity and the other above listed disadvantages are minimized as much as possible.

Managers should understand that an office or company offering the option of telecommuting should deeply understand the individuals who are going to be allowed to work from home. Due to the fact that it would be unwise to open up the option to some workers while not allowing those in similar positions to telecommute, it is important that everyone in the workforce who has a job that can be done from home is given such an option. Therefore, telecommuting begins at the time of hire. Make sure you find out: are your job applicants suited to work from home? Only hire the ones that really are.

To better understand if your company as a whole is equipped for this option, look at similar businesses who have been able to successfully—or unsuccessfully—offer this to their employees. Printed case analyses and real life examples provide an excellent starting point in determining whether or not your company is equipped for allowing the workforce to telecommute.

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