Making telecommuting work

May 13, 2013
BY Elliot D. Lasson

There has been much hullabaloo regarding Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, and her doing away with telecommuting in her company. A result has been other organizations either following suit or re-evaluating their corporate telecommuting (aka teleworking) practices.

Telecommuting, in one form or another, is something that has been around for a while.  It not only is a convenience for the employee, but also, in the right situation, facilitates uninterrupted productivity. Detractors believe that some telecommuters might slack off and that those who work in the office will not have as much opportunity. Consequently, telecommuting might reduce overall productivity due to an additional burden on management.

But these notions often come with exceptions.

Here, I offer 10 considerations and tips to increase the probability of developing a telecommuting program that works.

1. What does your job description say? In many respects, the success of a telecommuting arrangement is dependent on a person’s job. Organizations and staff should work together to determine whether a given job is a fit for such an arrangement.

2. Compartmentalization: One consideration is whether work flow can be compartmentalized. This means whether customer and co-worker contacts can be assigned to certain days of the week, freeing up blocks of time to allow for performing work remotely.

3. Technology: Whether an individual employee can effectively telecommute or not requires current technology to allow for remote work. In today’s terms, the technology requirements likely will include phone, voicemail, email and high-speed Internet. The employee should work together with the employer to see to it that all of the required connectivity is in place.

4. Discipline: Telecommuting arrangements are probably not a good idea for someone who cannot work independently. Telecommuting employees must be disciplined not only in doing their work, but also in checking their email and voicemail on a regular basis.

5. Privilege vs. Entitlement: Telework arrangements, in whatever frequency they might be established, must be viewed by employees as a privilege.  Employees granted this privilege must realize that there is a cost to management for this flexibility and not take it for granted. Management reserves the prerogative to revisit and revise any such arrangement.

6. Who are your customers? Part of any business work flow is based on who one’s customers are. Think about how accessible the telecommuter will be to customers.

7. Management support: As with anything in organizational life, having buy-in from management is critical for any program to succeed. A good business case must be presented on how telecommuting will benefit the organization.

8. Co-worker support, including subordinates: In addition, such an arrangement requires support from peers.  Co-workers are often dependent on expertise or other information throughout the day. Therefore, communication channels must be in place for instant access.

9. Policy: In order to make this work and to protect both employees and management, it is critical that organizations establish official telecommuting policies and apply them consistently.

10. Contingencies for ad hoc tele-commuting: Even when someone typically does not work remotely, it would be prudent to build in contingencies to do so (e.g., weather, injury). The opportunity to maintain productivity during what would otherwise be downtime is advantageous to organizations.
Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., is executive director of Joblink of Maryland Inc.