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Proactive Communication Ensures Effective Telecommuting

Establishing a system for proactive communication between the office and telecommuters has been key for companies that have experienced success with telecommuting. For example:
  • Dan Lowden, IBM's North American brand manager for ThinkPad notebooks, manages 40 remote workers. "Setting some simple, consistent parameters goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth round robin of communication," Lowden said. "For instance, I ask everyone on the team, wherever they're working from, to respond to emails by 5 p.m., and respond immediately to the urgent messages sent by alphanumeric pagers." The point, he says, is to get everybody on the same communication system so they're accessing and responding to messages in the same manner.

  • "The more you can interact by voice, text or video, the more you're able to overcome the barriers of time and distance," said Bob Kudla, director of business development for Ceridian in Minneapolis. Kudla telecommutes from his home in Laguna Niguel, California and also manages other telecommuters. "I encourage daily conversation; if they don't call me I call them. I have found that it helps to have a point person in the office who can keep everyone abreast of the work schedules of the staff, company memos, incoming mail, and can email, fax or overnight them." Kudla says that proactive communication among the employees is what makes everything work together seamlessly.

  • Remote manager Gale Varma, vice president of human resources at Prudential Insurance, found that she must be more structured about communication with her workers who are located at a half a dozen sites and the company headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. "I schedule specific 'connection times' with my secretary and my four business-unit vice presidents when I'm out of my office." She also responds quickly to phone and email messages even to say more time is needed for her to have an answer. "Employees need quick answers to job problems and decisions they're facing, and those at remote locations can't simply walk down the hall and stand there until they get your attention."
Varma also schedules monthly teleconferencing staff meetings. "Initially they involved the four vice presidents, now they include 18 staffers whose jobs overlap and they benefit from the exchanging information." The agenda is set two weeks in advance and everyone has an 800 teleconferencing number so they can call in from wherever they are.

"Technology can help with communication and information exchange but a company has to use whatever means possible for them," said Per Loof, CEO and President of Sensormatic Electronics in Boca Raton, Florida. The company employs 5,200 people dispersed across 12 global locations. For meetings with telecommuters and office staff, we use live broadcasts, intranet webcasts and bulletin boards, and for those employees without Internet access, the meetings are available by telephone and they're taped."

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