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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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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