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Implementing a Telecommuting Program

Like other significant organizational changes, undertaking a telecommute program raises many questions and requires certain decisions. In the early stages of planning, telecommuting committee members and senior management should explore and agree to:
  • Why your company is implementing a program
  • The program's stated goals
  • Your company's definition, philosophy and vision of telecommuting

Before recommending a telecommuting program, the committee should determine if your company is ready to implement the program. To aid the process, here is a list of characteristics that describe companies best suited for telecommuting. (It is important to note that a business does not have to meet all of these criteria.)

A company best suited for telecommuting:
  • Is competitive, practical and open to new ways of carrying out business and able to adapt to change
  • Relies on computers for much of its work
  • Understands the value of work-life balance
  • Sees the links between telecommuting and morale and between productivity and attracting or retaining top talent
  • Has staff that does not always need to be on site
  • Supports telecommuters with adequate training, equipment, and IT resources and support
  • Knows how many employees it can afford to have off site at any one time

Conduct a Job Audit

In assessing your company's readiness for telecommuting, you will need to be certain it has the right jobs for telecommuting. Because it is not possible for every employee to work outside of the office, how do you decide which employees can and should telecommute?

The best approach is to look at the tasks that make up each job. Your human resources department already may have analyzed on-site jobs tasks. Even if this information is not available, job task analysis is not difficult to do.

Begin your evaluative process by asking:
  • Can the work, or part of the work, be sent to and from the employee's home with ease, speed and confidentiality?
  • How much face-to-face contact is required with manager, colleagues, clients or subordinates (in the case of supervisors)?
  • Is the job subject to unscheduled meetings requiring face-to-face contact?
  • Must the employee immediately access equipment, materials and files situated only at the workplace?
  • Does the job often need access to office resources (files, references, secure or sensitive material) that can't be found in the telecommute environment?
  • What type of specialized equipment does the job need access to?

In analyzing tasks, it is important to remember that telecommuters can or may work from a combination of locations including:
  • A traditional on-site office location
  • A home office where telecommuting occurs as an approved alternate work site
  • A satellite office or telecenter where groups of telecommuters cluster instead of working at home

Criteria must be met in these categories to consider an employee for telecommuting:

Determine Employee Eligibility

Telecommuting does not suit everyone. Research in fact shows that employees with the following characteristics make good telecommuters:
  • Are already familiar with their work, their company and its culture, and with their colleagues
  • Are independent "self-starters" that do not require external prodding or stimulus in order to get on with the work
  • Are self-motivated, self-disciplined, and able to ignore distractions and focus on the work to be done
  • Are adept at communicating quickly and effectively with at-office colleagues
  • Do not seek telecommuting as a way to balance work while minding pre-school children at the same time
  • Do not have high needs for social interaction with at-office colleagues
  • Have well-equipped home offices that are safe, quiet, ergonomically sound and meet the requirements of the company's telecommuting program
  • Volunteer for the program
  • Accept and will sign a telecommute agreement that details job criteria and a job preview

Jobs with Telecommuting Potential

Advertising Executive
Applications Programmer
CAD/Cam Engineer
Central Files Clerk
Chief Executive Officer
Civil Engineer
Clerk Typist
Clinical Psychologist

Data Entry Clerk
Data Search Specialist
Design Engineer
Financial Analyst
Graphic Artist
Industrial Engineer
Insurance Broker
Laboratory Director
Mainframe Operator
Maintenance Technical
Technical Writer

Market Analyst
Marketing Manager
Natural Scientist
Office Machine Operator
Purchasing Manager
Radio Newscaster
Software Engineer
Stock Analyst
Stock Broker

Consider the Manager's Role

Unquestionably, managers and supervisors of telecommuters can make or break a telecommuting program. Based on the personalities and management styles within your company, you will need to identify which managers or supervisors have the characteristics to be good telemanagers.

Not every manager or supervisor is appropriate for telecommuting, although some can become effective telemanagers after training in techniques suited to telecommute. The following characteristics describe individuals more suited to telemanaging:
  • Has a positive attitude about telecommuting
  • Is well organized
  • Is skilled at supervision and communication
  • Trusts the integrity and professionalism of their employees
  • Manages by objectives, agreed performance standards and deadlines
  • Evaluates performance by results rather than by the clock or "face time"
  • Is highly supportive of telecommuting IT requirements
  • Has a generally flexible approach
  • Understands employee needs to balance work with personal life

Select Telecommuting Candidates

Whether or not a telecommuting program is voluntary or mandatory, its outcome and success depends upon a process of choosing employees to become telecommuters.

Selection based on seniority is not the best approach. Most often, a mandatory initiative can put the program at risk. Not everyone is suited for telecommuting or wants to telecommute. Voluntary telecommuting keeps workers motivated and positive about succeeding. Ultimately, the program's success or failure will be directly due to careful planning and implementation strategies or to poor preparation and inappropriately chosen participants.

At the same time, your company should create guidelines for how employees may participate in the telecommuting program. A number of selection methods, including surveys, are always available to the telecommuting committee and other individuals responsible for the selection process. A second method, self-nomination, affords interested employees and managers an objective way to be considered for telecommuting. Both are effective tools if your company chooses to select telecommuters on an individualized basis.

Also consider having employees tell you why they should be considered. Develop a questionnaire or self-nomination form that poses questions such as:
  • How will telecommuting enhance your productivity?
  • How will your productivity be measured?
  • What makes you the ideal candidate?
  • How does your position qualify you for telecommuting?
  • What are your work habit strengths and weaknesses?
Based on the quality of their responses, managers can select and begin discussions with candidates.

If your company uses the traditional path of job posting, managers will need to clearly state that some employees will be selected and others will not. This information is especially important if your company is entering a pilot phase or if the allocated equipment, budget and number of participants are limited. It is always a good idea to mention that telecommuting is neither a perk nor an employee entitlement or benefit. Telecommuting should only be offered at the discretion of the employer for a good business reason.

In all instances, managers play a critical role in communicating why or why not an individual is selected. Just as selected employees need to know why she or he will be participating, so too do those not selected need to know why they were not selected. An unsuccessful candidate may not have demonstrated those traits that indicate they will be successful as a telecommuter. It is possible that an employee hasn't been in his or her current position long enough, despite proven job skills. Or, a qualified prospect's home office may not meet the stated requirements for telecommuting.

Finally, in determining eligibility, it is important to keep one other practice in mind. Your company may choose to implement a telecommuting program where mutual benefits exist between employee and employer to revoke the program if it no longer benefits the company. Also, the telecommuter can choose to withdraw from the program with written notification.

Assess Telemanager Capabilities

Often a question arises in relation to managers themselves. Should management-level employees be considered for telecommuting? Ideally, everyone in the company should have the opportunity to apply to participate in the program. For that reason, managers should answer the same questions as other potential telecommuters when deciding if telecommuting is a workable option for them.

Launch a Pilot Program

Many companies of all sizes initiate a telecommuting pilot program before implementing the program full scale. In assessing your company's readiness, a pilot program will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in performance management, use and support of technology, and communication.

Running a pilot program usually is straightforward. A well-conceived plan will forecast for a stipulated period of time (usually six months or one year) and include detailed tasks for IT support, progress-reporting, and management reviews. Training and management workshops for policies, distance communications, and performance assessment within the pilot timeframe should also take place.

A carefully arranged pilot program might include:
  • Acquisition and configuration of hardware, software, and communications equipment, including laptops, productivity software, access controls, and admission to legacy applications
  • Installation of all necessary technologies and systems for homes or remote worksites

Once the pilot program begins, managers and participating telecommuting employees should communicate regularly (possibly weekly) to provide program feedback, address any issues that arise, and fine-tune to improve wherever possible. As the pilot program concludes, and objectives are met, the telecommuting committee and your entire company should prepare for a full rollout, based on the business case. If objectives are not met on schedule, conclude the pilot, document the lessons learned and consider pilot project extension.

At the pilot program's conclusion, the telecommuting committee should review established criteria and measurements, obstacles, concerns, any unexpected results, then revise the telecommuting plan in light of pilot results. If the pilot has achieved acceptable results, and affordable solutions to overcome obstacles can be proposed, a formal request for approval of an expanded or permanent telecommuting arrangement is the next step.

In constructing the business case for a larger rollout, committee members should provide senior management with:
  • A description of the telecommuting program, including scope, objectives, activities, schedule, and any new policies
  • An analysis of costs and benefits with a summary calculation of return on investment
  • A risk analysis, including critical success factors

Telecommute Connecticut Can Help

If you have a specific question or would like more information about the implementation and management of a pilot program, contact Telecommute Connecticut at [email protected].

Hold Training Sessions

Telecommuting can be a smooth and effective experience for telecommuting participants, their managers and your company if everyone is properly prepared. With appropriate planning, training and orientation, telecommuters, co-workers and telemanagers can work effectively.

Your company's telecommuting policy should clarify who will be trained and procedures statements should describe how. Training should be provided for all telecommuting participants, managers, telecommuters and their co-workers. A telecommuting orientation of all interested employees and a pre-briefing of managers and prospective telecommuters is also considered good practice.

Training for all participants should focus on program goals and objectives. In training managers and supervisors, it is advisable to address the business case for the telecommuting plan. For all concerned, including non-participating employees, it is important to note that telecommuting represents a cultural change in which the training program should address.

Training sessions for managers should cover telecommuting policy, procedures and methods for managing telecommuters. Other relevant topics include: work planning and scheduling, common barriers to and solutions for telecommuting, tactics for managing at a distance and the critical importance of communication. Management training should also consider: goal setting, managing by results, monitoring performance, providing feedback and coaching, and creating expectations for telecommuters and their on-site co-workers.

During employee training, telecommuting candidates should receive an introduction to the program and learn about successful strategies to working effectively. Training should emphasize that their ability to handle the workload, minimize obstacles, communicate with their co-workers and managers, and organize their telecommute time effectively are key to their success. Use of equipment, ergonomics and safety as well as legal concerns should also be covered.

Specific training content for co-workers should consider effective time management so they can seamlessly work with telecommuters, who may work different hours.

Also consider conducting training evaluation to assess reactions to the training program, learning, performance after transfer to the telecommuting job, and departmental performance as a result of training.

Evaluate the Telecommuting Program

Monitoring and evaluation of any telecommuting arrangements should routinely take place to make certain the telecommuting program stays on track. Evaluation is also key in determining if the telecommuting effort is a success in terms of meeting company goals and needs.

Evaluation Areas To Measure
  • Are telecommuter productivity and performance evaluation processes in place?
  • Are telecommuters and their managers or supervisors satisfied with the program processes?
  • Have you developed a method for evaluating the achievement of organizational internal goals? External goals?
  • Have you conducted a cost/benefit analysis?
  • Have you developed customer evaluations, if necessary?

There are a number of measurement strategies that you might fold into the evaluation plan. The goals and objectives you may evaluate, however, will depend on your company's telecommuting initiative. Key internal issues might include the effect of telecommuting on productivity, operating costs, employee morale, recruitment, retention, and customer or client satisfaction. The effect of training on telecommuting performance might be considered too. External issues such as the impact telecommute participation on traffic flow or air pollution are also important.

What are your typical replacement costs of a valued employee who has left the company? When evaluating operating cost savings, be sure to include infrastructure such as phone, power, heat, office equipment, office furniture, parking as well as brick and mortar savings when considering shared workspaces or hotelling as a savings based upon a telecommuting initiative.

Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis

Companies that implement a telecommuting program should conduct a cost/benefit analysis, which often includes out-of-pocket costs, quantified benefits, and telecommuting-focused expenses related to employee satisfaction, retention, turnover, current real estate cost per worker, new hire recruiting and training costs, and IT support per worker.

A cost/benefit analysis is often a primary driver of the telecommuting process. In adopting a telecommuting initiative, your company will want to realize cost savings over costs associated with the traditional workplace setting. Most often, cost savings are attributable to increased productivity, decreased staffing needs and reduced office space requirements. Typical components of a cost/benefit analysis, with representative dollar amounts, include: training, furniture, equipment, moving expenses, telephone bills, and administration.

You may wish to add dollar amounts to estimates in regard to average productivity increase, decreased sick leave usage, decreased medical costs, decreased turnover, reduced office space need, and decreased building energy use.

Request Customer/Client Evaluations

You also may wish to include customers or clients in the evaluation process-an advisable step if your company is closely aligned with customer service. It is best to frame questions within a non-telecommuting context: Is the response time or service better? Have you noticed any organizational changes within a specified timeframe?

Obtain Training Evaluation Information

Consider using before and after training interviews with telecommuters and telemanagers to obtain evaluation data and measure training effectiveness. Information and data drawn from these interviews can be included in a general telecommuting program evaluation.

Complete An Evaluation Report

Completion of an evaluation report will determine if your company's stated goals were met or not met and why. Any unexpected outcomes should also be discussed. If unmet goals and related expectations were set too high or did not receive adequate support within your company, those aspects of the telecommuting program should be reviewed closely and revised.

Once your telecommuting program is underway, you need to know how it is working. If you have a specific question or need information on evaluating your program, contact Telecommute Connecticut at [email protected].

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