Recessions are the perfect time to restructure your business, re-think your management approach, and increase competitive advantage by decreasing your fixed costs. Allowing some or all of your workforce to telecommute can save on office and energy costs, while giving your employees the flexibility that so many crave. But, says Charles (Chip) Buck, COO and co-founder of independence IT, "telecommuting is an obvious double-edged sword. It empowers employees to be productive at times they otherwise might not be, but also provides a mechanism to shirk job duties." Buck's company provides applications hosting and IT management for small companies, allowing them to manage remote workforces. But it takes more than the right technology to build a successful telecommuting program. "If you are a small business that ordinarily does not write policy or document decisions, this is one decision you should communicate via a written policy to impacted employees," says Buck. According to Buck, all telecommuting policies should include the following:
A general rationale for the policy. Is it employee flexibility (reward) related, cost savings related, productivity related, or even part of an incentive of "flex work" plan?
Explicit time frame. How many hours per week (month, quarter, year) are employees permitted or expected to telecommute? When will a telecommuting day commence and how it will proceed? Will employees be expected to be online and available for specific time intervals, or is the time spent discretionary and the productivity value of the day measured by work output or assignment completion?
Telecommuting location. Must an employee work from a designated location at home, or will any location that supports the overall communications need suffice?
Communications requirements. Must employees be "live" and on-line? If so, who bears the costs associated with communications?
Technical requirements. How will information be shared and work distributed? Do you use a VPN, cloud storage or cloud desktops, simple email or move work back and forth on USB thumb drives? How will you manage privacy and information security concerns? You must address the issue of maintaining corporate information on personal computers, or in hard copy documents maintained at home.
Pay adjustments. Is there incentive pay for telecommuting? Is there a reduction in wage for the privilege of telecommuting? Are there tax implications for the business or the employees?
Meeting scheduling and telecommuting conflicts. What are the requirements when multiple employees need to meet face to face, who has to "give up" a telecommuting day? Can employees meet off site to conduct a meeting during a telecommuting day?
Policy exceptions and revocations. Consider including an "out" clause that permits management to cancel telecommuting whenever it sees fit for any reason. For most organizations, or job roles telecommuting is a privilege not a right.
While advances in cloud computing, online document and project management, voice over IP, and video conferencing make telecommuting technically manageable for even the smallest companies, you also need to consider the psychological impact on employees. Some will thrive in an independent working environment and may be even more productive, while others may languish because they miss the personal interaction and face-to-face support of an office environment. Buck says it's essential "to review and refine the initial policy, adjusting for the real experiences the company has encountered."
Do you allow or require your employees to telecommute? How has it impacted your company and your employees?
Working Dog image by Flickr user BlogMama, CC 2.0