Telecommuting is increasingly becoming a way of business life. According to the United States Census Bureau, an estimated 20 to 30 million people work at home at least one day a week. Worldwide, the numbers are even more impressive. The Citrix Workplace of the Future survey found that 24 percent of global companies allow their employees to work at times and locations of their choosing.
What are the benefits of this approach?
For employees, telecommuting eliminates travel costs and provides a better work/life balance. For companies, it lowers employee-related and real estate costs, which can be a major boon to small businesses that may lack the capital and infrastructure to maintain a traditional office environment. Additionally, telecommuting allows businesses to hire from a wider pool of applicants, including disabled and geographically removed workers.
However, working from home also presents a number of unique challenges for both employees and employers. Recently, Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, revoked her company’s longstanding at-home work option, citing her company’s need to improve employee collaboration and communication. In a Forrester survey, Virtual Work Environmens in the Post-Recession Era (PDF), other employers shared Mayer’s concerns, with 49% worried about effective communication with remote employees and 43% concerned about managing projects and deadlines successfully.
What Can Employers Do To Minimize Potential Disadvantages From Telecommuting?
It’s all about the right employees, the right security and the right project tracking business tools.
The Right Employees
Not every employee is cut out to be an at-home worker. Most employees have been conditioned to work in a micromanaged office environment and some may flounder when working independently. Julia Drake, Founder and Director of Julia Drake Public Relations, solved this problem by instating a trial period for all possible hires.
“I spent about six months to a year with them to make sure they possessed the right work ethic and the ability to work independently without a boss breathing down their neck,” Drake said. “It takes ambition, discipline and a passion for what you do. It takes a certain type of person.”
Companies can also have potential employees take personality and behavior tests as part of the application process, such as the one at Affintus. These can help determine if an employee would work better in an office or at-home environment.
The Right Security
The aforementioned Citrix study also found that 83 percent of businesses allow remote employees to use their own devices to access company networks. Additionally, 59 percent of remote workers do not back up company data. This can create a lot of hassle and potential security risks, especially for small businesses that might have fewer security protections in place.
To maintain the security of sensitive and critical data, businesses should develop and enforce security best practices and keep employees informed of possible security threats. Additionally, they should keep track of what devices employees are using and what they are using them for.
The Right Project Tracking Business Tools
Employees often flourish when they are given freedom and flexibility in how and where they work. However, that doesn’t mean that businesses should give up their ability to monitor employee progress. Employers can easily stay in touch with remote employees through email and instant messaging. Company meetings can be conducted through video conferencing.
Employers would also be well advised to implement software to track employee time for individual projects. This software should be fully integrated across remote and in-house workers, so that employers can view their entire workforce at a glance. This will allow managers to effectively manage deadlines and costs for all company projects.
Telecommuting seems to be the way of the future, and it offers many benefits for both employers and employees. But businesses can only enjoy these benefits if they implement certain guidelines and securities. If they fail to do so, businesses risk ending up like Yahoo, having to revoke the telecommuting option years down the line.
Work at Home Photo via Shutterstock
Telecommuting is certainly a trend though not necessarily suited for every business. (It’s hard to imagine operating businesses as disparate as a cafe or a machine shop with telecommuting employees!) Then again, many information businesses certainly lend themselves quite well to this approach. Having some experience with employee tracking, however, I would say there are limits, and the oldest kind of monitoring remains the best. Make sure you are getting the essential work done. Otherwise, there can be some diminishing return in the time taken in the monitoring process.