The perks and perils of telecommuting


Artist Adam Griffiths, known as Adam Dwight,at work at his home in Takoma Park, Md. with his cat Mr. Bones. (Juana Arias/For the Washington Post)
May 5, 2012

Advances in technology and the ready access to Web sites, e-mail, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, electronic faxing and Internet phones have enhanced every organization’s ability to offer employees the option of working from home or a remote location. 

From large federal agencies and private corporations to small business enterprises, employers are enabling more employees to work away from the main place of business. This trend also brings new challenges.  Taking a proactive approach to managing the perks and perils of remote work can bring good outcomes for both the employee and the employer. 

To customers, the connection is seamless, with quality services offered regardless of where the employee is located.  Remote employees enjoy shorter commute times, flexible work hours, comfortable work environments, privacy and reduced personal work expenses. Employers gain with enhanced productivity, expanded hours of operation, lower overhead costs, access to a larger pool of quality workers, stronger team collaboration and inspired creativity.  Remote workers may also add to a company’s geographic accessibility to customers or resources.  

 With perks also come perils. Employers’ greatest risk is losing control of their workforce. They also face reduced employee communication and training time. Employee perils might include professional and personal isolation, home environment distractions, potential loss of connectivity, outdated skills, altered knowledge sharing among employees and maintenance of own equipment.

 Initiating and maintaining an individual employee or a group of employees in a home or remote office location does require planning and oversight. Here’s how you can take advantage of the perks and overcome the perils of telework:

 ●Understand your company’s needs and the tasks of each employee.  Be prepared to measure an employee’s contribution in clear qualitative and quantitative objectives.  The number of hours worked by an employee is helpful when calculating payroll but should be viewed differently in a remote work setting.

Establish clear expectations of quantity of work to be completed in a particular time frame as well as specific times employees need to be available.  Clarify for both employee and manager the method of measuring and monitoring an employee’s time and availability.  An Internet based timesheet offers collection, monitoring and analysis capabilities. An Internet or phone notification along with a shared calendar can help monitor an employee’s time and availability. 

 Assist employees with setting up and maintaining home office. Minimal needs include a computer, telephone (or Internet phone) and Internet access with security features. Determine if you want to pay for other items, such as furniture, copy machine, shredder, desk supplies, etc. You may also arrange method for purchase, reimbursement or provision as well as shipping costs.

 Provide ongoing training and support to the remote employee. Initial and periodic training at office location is highly recommended. Clarify primary contacts for each remote employee. Also arrange opportunities on an annual basis for personal contact and provide financial support for employee to attend a company conference or team meeting with time for continued training and personal sharing.

 Encourage communication and collaboration both among remote employees and with office staff.       Schedule recurring and ad hoc teleconferencing or videoconferencing to join small groups of staff or larger teams to enhance camaraderie, share information and collaborate on company goals and action plans. 

Remote employees should have at minimum a weekly scheduled meeting with a team or individual supervisor. Based upon proximity to company office, offer remote employees the option of attending monthly or weekly meetings in person, depending on nature of the work. Organizations should also outline specific guidelines for use of tools, such as, instant messages, e-mails, telephones and Internet chats.

 Keep in mind that not every job lends itself to remote work but remain open to option of employee’s ability to occasionally work at work. Manufacturing and direct service industries have on-site requirements but an occasional work-at-home day could provide opportunity for an employee to complete online training, planning or preparation of performance reviews. Remain open to a diversified workforce. Remote work offers the flexibility that may be required due to permanent or temporary physical or personal obstacles encountered by a talented workforce.

 Be prepared with a contingency plan for at-home work. This can save productivity during disruptions caused by weather or other events.

 With these guidelines in mind, your business can be on its way to taking a positive approach to the perks and perils of remote work.

 Barbara DeGray is director of nurse case management at Bethesda-based Managed Care Advisors, a woman-owned small business specializing in workers’ compensation case management services, employee benefits and disability management consulting. DeGray works remotely and manages a remote staff.

 

 

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