By Lindy Barr Batdorf
Even before gas prices started hitting new highs, telecommuting made sense. Benefits for both employer and employee are magnified in today’s volatile economy, and many business owners across the nation who had not considered it before are considering it now. Obviously, not all positions lend themselves to an at-home situation, but for those that do the benefits can outweigh pitfalls – if problems are considered ahead of time.
Potential obstacles include:
- Distractions: Whether it’s the dog barking or a kid selling candy at the door, how can an employer be certain the employee’s job is being done in the manner specified?
- Lack of Diligence: When supervision or management is not physically present, what are some ways to encourage conscientiousness and timely completion of work assigned?
- Detachment: Telecommuters often don’t feel part of the team – how does a manager help them stay connected?
In response to these concerns, there are eight secrets to avoid problems and realize success for at-home employees:
Secret #1: The right employee for the right job: We’ve all seen new hires fail when certain key factors were not taken into consideration prior to employment. The same is true for telecommuting. It has to be a good fit. Some questions to consider are:
- Is the employee on-task and productive when he or she is in the office?
- Is he or she prone to distraction?
- Does the employee want to telecommute?
- How much of the employee’s job can be done in a home environment?
- What percentage of an average workday is the employee needed at the office?
- Would the employee be more productive away from the office?
- Could the employee’s office space be utilized for other things on the days they are working from home?
Secret #2: Extend the work-at-home option as a privilege for employees who have a proven track record: When the honor of trust is given to top employees whose work history demonstrates that they will be productive working from home, even if the budget is tight and raises are not possible, the opportunity to have a more flexible schedule or no commute can be seen as a great bonus. When working from home is treated as an honor – perhaps announced at a staff meeting as an award for those whose work history warrants it, complete with the criteria for earning this honor – others may wish to raise their own personal bar to meet that criteria. It also makes it clear to employees who might otherwise feel slighted what it will take to be considered.
Secret #3: Write down and openly discuss all questions and concerns before a decision is made: Address supply issues, logistics, legalities, and tax concerns of your individual state ahead of time. Put in writing what the employer will supply and do and what is expected of the employee. Similarly, discuss the benefits of working from home. Some individuals thrive in a community, and others do well when left on their own.
Secret #4: Communicate early, often, and clearly: Communication is key to the success of a telecommuting situation. It is easy for an at-home employee to feel disconnected from the company unless managers make communication a top priority – and not just one-on-one communication, either. Encourage other staff members to include all at-home employees in all-office communication, as well as in more formal company-wide communication like e-mail blasts and staff announcements. Nothing conveys disconnect more clearly than an employee who finds out about the all-staff luncheon after the fact.
Secret #5: Structure presented with respect: Some employees will need a great deal of structure to make an at-home situation work, and some will not. Even so, as a manager, you may require every at-home employee to submit daily information on work completed. First, decide on the template for the workday schedule and then put it in writing. You may request that this list be submitted before the start of every workday.
Secret #6: Regular and irregular check-in points: Some employees get little done unless they have tangible accountability to a person or a self-imposed deadline. The level of professionalism the employee exhibits and his or her productivity will determine whether or not you need this step – or how long it should continue once begun. Again, each situation will be different. Communication ahead of time will clarify whether or not supervisors will need to contact employees at irregular intervals to check in with them. Unless other accountability steps have been taken, periodic check-ins help to keep productivity up and reduce the temptation of distractions.
Secret #7: On-site staff meetings: It is important that an at-home employee have periodic meetings at the office in order to feel part of the team. Regular communication is vital for those who work at home, as is a little office camaraderie. For this reason, whenever possible, at-home employees should be expected to attend all staff-wide meetings and training sessions. Additionally, they should be invited to informal gatherings for birthdays or celebrations as well.
Secret #8: Recognition and appreciation: It is important to include at-home employees in every aspect of working as a team, and this includes extending honor when they have done a stellar job. No employee should be overlooked and ignored if they are part of the working community. All too often, when someone is not seen on a daily basis, they tend to be forgotten or omitted from normal, everyday courtesies like thank-you lists. Often, their work is never recognized at all. This leads to discouragement, and discouragement leads to resentment – and resentment can lead to resignations.
It’s important then, as a manager, to keep the lines of communication open, to encourage other staff members to do the same, and to include everyone as equitably as possible, especially when praise and recognition are concerned.
Lindy Batdorf is a consultant, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in the art and heart of communication. As a veteran media professional, Lindy has written for newspapers, magazines, television, and radio across the United States. She is author of Stop and Smell the Asphalt, and her e-zine, Light at Home, has helped enhance life at home for 30,000 subscribers around the world. Contact Lindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – October 2008]