Is Telecommuting Right for You and Your Company? Part 2

Dear, Anita,

I manage a department of 12. One of my employees is pregnant and wants to work from home – permanently – after the baby arrives. I’m concerned that this first-time mother is not being realistic about getting work done with an infant around. She’s a great worker and I don’t want to lose her. How can I decide whether to allow her to telecommute? If we do permit her to work from home, I feel like we will need new company policies, as other employees may want to work virtually as well. Any advice?

Dear, Doubting Thomas,

Last year, Yahoo! announced that all remote employees would need to come back to work in corporate offices. While telecommuting wasn’t working for Yahoo!, your company may be a different story.  In last week’s blog, we looked at telecommuting from an employee’s point of view (see Part 1).  Now, let’s contemplate the pros and cons from a manager’s mindset.

PROS

Increased Productivity. While not a given, many virtual employees and their supervisors notice an increase in productivity because they don’t have the typical office interruptions. Plus, there’s no time suck around the water cooler!

Flexible Schedules. While this sounds like a pro for the employee, it can also be a benefit to the employer. You may have a night owl, who can take a 5 p.m. e-mail from you and have a report back in your in-box by 8 a.m.

Working from home with a babyHappier Employees. Work-life balance is a key factor in job satisfaction. And who wouldn’t be in a better mood when the commute is down the hall and not down the bumper-to-bumper freeway?

Employee Retention. See above.

Top Talent. In the future, your company may be able to recruit by skill rather than by geographic location.

Reduced Overhead. While your company may not realize cost savings until it has many more virtual workers, some businesses note a decrease in real estate, infrastructure, HVAC, and electricity costs.

Decreased Carbon Footprint. If your business is interested in its environmental impact, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) confirmed that the fuel savings more than compensate for the extra emissions from home-based offices.

No Snow Days. Virtual employees can still work during a polar vortex (assuming, of course, they don’t lose power)!

CONS

Equipment Costs. Computer, phone, high-speed Internet connection, printer – to set up a home office without stripping your company’s desks bare can be costly.

Long-Distance Tech Support. What happens when the power goes out or the Internet goes down at an employee’s home office? It may be harder for your IT department to deal with remote technical problems.

Supervision. It’s easy to be “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” when you aren’t walking by employees’ desks daily. Use random calls and e-mails to make sure the off-site employees are hard at work, until they’ve built up trust.

Communication. With so many videoconferencing and high-tech ways to stay in touch, I hesitate to include this on the “con” list. After all, how much time do you really spend interacting face-to-face (and not leaving an e-mail trail) with co-workers? Facetime or Skype meetings are beneficial. Perhaps regularly scheduled in-office days are necessary, or a combination of both teleconferencing and on-site presence.

Slacking. Make sure the deadlines for deliverables don’t slip. Of course, everyone is human and misses a target date on occasion. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Self-motivated, disciplined individuals are the best candidates for virtual workers.

Creating/Maintaining Teams.  With this employee, you’ve had the advantage of previous face-to-face interaction, feedback, and mentoring. But creating teamwork and maintaining the corporate culture with new hires may be tricky.

If the pros outweigh the cons, give your new mom a telecommuting trial of 30, 60, or 90 days beyond her maternity leave. At that time, evaluate if the arrangement is working or whether you really do need her position to work within the office environment. Also, continue the check-ins at periodic intervals. Working at home with a three-month-old is far different than with a crawling six-month-old. What works at first may not work in the long-term.

Supervisors, do you have any tips to share for managing virtual workers?

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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Is Telecommuting Right for You and Your Company? Part 1

Dear, Anita,

I’m a single mom with two small children – one is in 2nd grade and has to go to an after-school program and the other I currently have in pre-school.  By the time I get home, there’s barely time for dinner, homework (for the oldest) and a bath before bed. I would love to work from home so that I can save on child-care expenses, and be there more for my kids during these younger years. How can I ask my boss if working remotely is an option?

Dear, There’s No Place Like Home,

WorldatWork estimates that 16 million employees work at home at least one day a month. Believe it or not, the federal government has the highest proportion of teleworkers at 3.3%, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, over 2.6% for private sector for-profit employers.

In this two-part blog, we’ll contemplate the issues both employees and managers should examine to see if telecommuting is a feasible option.  We’ll look at telecommuting from the employee’s perspective today.

MC900156995[1]Working from home could save you commute time, but you will still be motoring to school for drop-offs and pick-ups. At least the 3 p.m. pickup isn’t during prime rush hour. (And what will you do in summer? Send the kids to camp?) Telecommuting is “green,” reducing pollution and saving gas.  The latter will save you, the employee, money. Speaking of money, as you mentioned, you’ll likely save big on childcare. You may even save on your work wardrobe, too, but be careful not to get too lazy and work in your bathrobe all day. If your company is fast-growing, adding more employees, and needing to lease more office space for its burgeoning workforce, there could be cost savings for your employer you’ll want to tout if you opt to work at home.

Think about your actual work. Do you need to be on call during regular office hours?  Do you need to use special equipment not easily replicated at home (high-end color copiers, as an example)? While e-mail is a boon for telecommuters, is telephone contact often required for your position (and will your pre-schooler understand Mommy can’t talk during important business phone calls)? Is frequent face-to-face interaction with clients or even co-workers necessary? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s going to be harder to convince your boss telecommuting is a good idea.

Evaluate your personality. Some telecommuters report feelings of isolation. After a few months of working at home with your kids, you may long for grown-up conversation. Are you self-motivated? There’s the refrigerator, enticing you for a snack break you wouldn’t have even thought of while working at your office. Or the washing machine whispering, “C’mon, just one little load.” The best telecommuters are disciplined to get their work done without supervisors looking over their shoulders.

Is your home environment conducive to telecommuting? One reason for working from home is to have fewer distractions than at the office, with ringing phones, coworkers interrupting, etc. With two small children in the picture, your home office may be more chaotic! Honestly assess whether you think having a full-time preschooler underfoot is conducive to getting your work tasks done efficiently. Will your company’s IT department be able to supply you with a laptop or desktop computer for your home? (Oops, there go those cost savings for your employer!) Is your Internet connection at home reliable and up to speed? Will you have a dedicated workspace or will your laptop reside on the dining room table, where your weekly report runs the risk of marinara stains?  For your sanity’s sake, it is helpful if your virtual office has a door, so you can close up shop and not be tempted to work 24/7.

Telecommuting must be a win-win situation, so be sure to prepare your rationale before discussing the idea with your supervisor. Suggest a trial, starting with working from home one day a week to see if the arrangement functions well for both parties.  As unfair as it sounds, you’ll need to prove your value working off-site more so than when you worked in the office.

Next week, we’ll look at telecommuting from a manager’s perspective.

Calling all telecommuters! Share your best advice on how to make working at home, well… work.

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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