According to the Canadian Business Journal (2014) “70% of millennial workers would rather telecommute than come to the office” and “Gen-Y employees say telecommuting increases job satisfaction”. Telecommuting means working from home, whether occasionally or permanently, by making use of the company’s network, email and resources via a remote VPN connection. What is all the buzz around telecommuting these days? Here are some quick facts, as well as the associated risks and benefits, which employers should know before adopting telecommuting practices in their companies.
The greatest benefit surrounding telecommuting is flexibility, which is a quality greatly prized by job seekers when choosing an employer. Whether it’s a Millennial who wants to spend time volunteering, a Gen Xer who has kids to pick up from daycare or even a baby boomer who needs to care for ailing parents, we now live in an era where there is a big need for work/life balance. Working from home, whether occasionally or permanently, can fill that need. By spending less time commuting to the office, employees gain time getting their work done at home, free from distraction. In turn, employers can benefit from more productive and happy employees.
Communication & Innovation
The main problem with telecommunication is that it limits actual face to face time between employees. Companies can miss out on the benefits of “water cooler” discussions that often foster creativity, innovation and positive relationships between coworkers. Richard Branson cautions that “executives need to make sure they foster better informal communication” (Canadian Business Journal, 2014), and this cannot be achieved if everyone is working primarily from home. If telecommuting is a frequent practice, one solution is to organize casual get-togethers such as 5à7`s or team building exercises to create opportunities for relationship-building and informal conversations.
The most important element regarding telecommuting is trusting your employees to be productive without any supervision. Many managers argue that there is no way to monitor how much work actually gets done. However, who is to say that cubicle employees don’t waste as much time surfing the internet throughout the day? Most research actually suggests that employees who do work from home are more efficient and waste less time. If your employee is productive at the office, this is an indicator that he/she will equally be productive working from home. Of course, this is granted on the fact that the employee’s position is conducive from working from a remote environment. Nonetheless, allowing your employees to work from home sends the message that you trust them, but that trust can be easily broken if the work is not being accomplished.
Set ground rules and define your expectations towards the work to be done. Meet with your employee regularly, whether in person or by phone to assign clear tasks and short deadlines. Then, be sure to follow upon a timely basis to review what was accomplished. Another way is to adopt an internal instant messaging software whereby you can “chat” or “check-in” with your employee from time to time during the day to see how they are doing. Ultimately, most managers can instinctively judge whether their employee was productive and can refute the right to work from home if objectives are not being met.
Have a clear IT policy
If you are thinking of allowing your employees to telecommute, then there should be guidelines that address protecting the privacy and integrity of company data and networks. The above can be stipulated in your employee policy manual and/or through a signed agreement. Most importantly, have your IT expert ensure that remote employees’ networks are properly secured, and their machines are protected by firewalls, antivirus software, etc.
At the end of day, deciding whether or not to allow telecommuting for your employees is a case-by-case situation depending on the industry, the employee’s role and the manager’s ability to trust that employee. If you do allow it, then do be sure to set clear expectations, allow for opportunities for informal communication, and do be sure to have clear IT policies and procedures that protect company data and networks.