If at First You Don't Succeed...Do Try Again

How Telecommuting Made a Triumphant Comeback at CRN

History suggests that companies which encounter difficulties in their initial attempts at telecommuting tend to give up on telecommuting -- without analyzing why their efforts failed and without thinking about how they could do better if they trie
d again.

CRN, International has proven to be the exception to the rule -- an exception from which other companies can learn.

Not long ago, this Hamden-based producer of radio promotions and programming for advertisers such as Campbell Soup, Hormel, M&M Mars and Lipton -- tried telecommuting for the first time. After encountering complaints from managers, the program seemed destined for cancellation. Today, however, telecommuting is alive and well, and CRN is enjoying the benefits.

Why the turnaround? According to CRN's Human Resources Director, Cathy Lawler, the difference is having a well thought-out telecommuting policy in place.

The Problem
"We had more and more requests from employees to telecommute -- mainly after pregnancies," says Ms. Lawler, "but we didn't have a policy and weren't sure how to handle it. We did realize that telecommuting wasn't for everyone, but we didn't have any [ground rules]." As a result, CRN experienced some problems, and managers began complaining about being unable to properly hold their telecommuters accountable for their work. Managers were especially concerned that employees involved in client relations would not be in the office when direct client contact was necessary. Telecommuting's days at CRN seemed numbered.

A Happy Coincidence
While the internal debate about telecommuting was going on at CRN, Ms. Lawler was taking a business course at Albertus Magnus College. As part of that course, she was assigned to do a Human Resources Management project. As good fortune would have it, she soon received a mailing about telecommuting from Telecommute CT! and decided to write a telecommuting policy both for her class project and for her employer. It was then that Ms. Lawler contacted Telecommute CT! for assistance.

Soliciting the Opinions of CRN's Managers
Ms. Lawler met with Telecommute CT! human resources consultant, Laura Collins, who recommended that Lawler first survey CRN managers about their concerns. A survey was then sent out to all CRN managers soliciting their feelings about telecommuting and asking about how things were going with their telecommuters.
When the survey came back, Ms. Lawler reviewed the results with Ms. Collins and together, they devised a plan of action, the key to which was developing a telecommuting policy. "We talked about the reactions from managers," says Lawler, "and how we could work that into a policy that would ease their fears. The consultant made some suggestions which I incorporated into the policy and into a telecommuting agreement form."

Highlights of the CRN Telecommuting Policy

Currently, telecommuting appears to be doing just fine at CRN, as some employees are now able to work from home one or two days a week. Managers are no longer complaining and have, in fact, learned how to better supervise their telecommuting employees. Most important, the work is getting done to everyone's satisfaction. On the heels of these positive results, Lawler anticipates that more CRN employees will put in a request for permission to telecommute, and hopes that CRN will be able to accommodate them..

Lessons Learned
Lawler's advice to other employers is first to remember that telecommuting isn't for everyone. Some people are more capable than others of working effectively without direct in-person supervision, and some tasks lend themselves to being done off site moreso than others. With those considerations in mind, Lawler advises: "Go through the process of writing a policy and an agreement. It clarifies the issues."