Create an Effective Telecommuting Program

by Danielle Foster

Telecommuting

Mention the word telecommuting and most managers immediately shutter at the thought. How can I supervise employees I can’t see? Will employees take telecommute days as a day off? How can I measure my return on investment? How often should I have them check-in? The list of managerial doubts and questions can go on and on. However, the biggest thing to note is that telecommuting programs are growing in popularity across the country.

According to Gallup’s 2017 annual report, The State of the American Workplace, about 43 percent of U.S. workers work remotely in some capacity, even if that means telecommuting only once a week or less. That percentage is up from 39 percent in 2012, which indicates a moderate but steady increase in telecommuting.

In addition, in more than half of the largest U.S. metro areas, telecommuting beats public transportation as the preferred commuting option, according to another report, 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce. Telecommuting has grown far faster than any other commuting mode, according to the study, which was issued by FlexJobs and Global Workplace.

Nonetheless, barriers remain. “Federal agencies have made considerable progress (in telecommuting), but they also continue to report challenges such as management resistance, outdated cultural norms and technology limitations,” the GSA said in its latest annual report to Congress.

Often, this management resistance simply boils down to lack of trust, says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “Some managers have this attitude–if they’re not looking at [workers] in the office, they’re at home on the sofa eating bonbons,” she says. Ironically, she adds, being in sight does not always mean being productive.

So how can we manage and implement a successful off-site work policy? Below are some tips to consider before allowing your employees to work from home.

1. Co-create
While approval and overall implementation of a telecommuting program must come from upper management, it is important to have the entire team play a role in its development. This will help set the tone and build confidence before the new telecommuting prgroam beings.

2. Manage by results.
For some managers, being able to walk by their employees offices and see them working away is reassuring. But apparent worker activity should not be confused with the results those activities produce. Establish a clear definition of objectives and performance indicators, keep track of those indicators and most importantly, establish trust. Establish daily check-ins but avoid micro monitoring as that can hinder productivity and create an environment of distrust.

3. Remain Social
The value of in-person community office time increases when working in a mobile environment. Collectively decide how often telecommuters should come into the office. You can even include a regular social event calendar to ensure that off site employees still feel connected with their team.

4. Virtual presence
Establish policies and procedures for telecommuters to be able to stay connected with the team. Implement the use of tools such as instant messaging systems, Skype or FaceTime to make sure the team stays inclusive.

5. Keep evolving
Sticking to the rules and staying flexible are both important factors when creating your telecommuting program. On one hand managing telecommuters can be tricky and sticking to the rules can be very important. For example if you have an amazing employee who wants to work from home but whose job description requires her be onsite, sticking to the rules will maintain consistency. On the other hand, a telecommuting program is a continual work in progress. It is not often that teams can get all the arrangements right on the first try. Situations including evolving work groups or projects, may also force changes in the original arrangements. Remain flexible and continue to evaluate.

Gallup’s The State of the American Workplace finds that more than half of U.S. employees (51 percent) are searching for new jobs or watching for openings, and 47 percent say now is a good time to find a quality job. The report also states “Gallup consistently has found that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job.”