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As we have seen, telecommuting can have significant benefits for both the employee and employer. But not everyone is allowed to telecommute. Not every company has a telecommuting program. And I can see why.
Starting a telecommuting effort is probably the most complex issue in the telecommuting process. Every situation is different and every company, or management team, has its own culture, fears, and prejudices. Your management may be open to new ideas, or they may stifle anything that is new, or out of the norm.
That said, this article will not try to identify every area of possible concern, but, will give you a broad stroke overview of what it may take to start a telecommuting effort at your company and what you need to accomplish, at home, to start telecommuting.
The fundamental management and employee ingredients to a successful telecommuting program can be summed up in three words: Trust, communicate, and quantify.
Without these, any telecommuting effort is doomed to fail.
Management must be able to trust their telecommuting employees and, conversely, the telecommuting employee should trust their manager. This includes trusting the employee to work when not in the office, and trusting management to fairly represent the telecommuting employee when it comes to their career and raises.
Management and the telecommuter must communicate effectively and often. Not every minute or every hour, but, on a regular basis. Part of that communication needs to include feedback from the telecommuter to management if they are feeling telecommuting is not working out, and from management to the telecommuter to help them smooth out any bumps in the road.
If telecommuting is not working, then both may agree to terminate and work together to fold the telecommuter back into the “normal” office work environment.
Before starting to telecommute, management and the telecommuter must agree to the specific goals and deadlines to be met. These can be any well defined, easily measureable, goals or tasks such as: number of sales per week, number of new clients per month, or meeting design deadlines. The manager and telecommuter can adjust these goals as appropriate and should regularly monitor and measure progress. If the goals are not being met, the manager works with the telecommuter to identify the problem and try to fix it. If the problem cannot be resolved the manager, per the agreement, can bring the telecommuter back into the office.
Qualities of the Telecommuter’s Manager
We have touched on the qualities of a good telecommuter, but, have not yet listed what would make a good manager of a telecommuter.
Simply put, the manager should possess many, if not all, of the following traits.
The manager should:
• be comfortable managing by results not by the physical presence of the employee.
• be organized and able to set reasonable deadlines for goals and tasks.
• be a good communicator.
• be trustworthy.
• want telecommuting to succeed.
• be flexible and willing to make adjustments if needed.
The manager is not a micro-manager, will not demand that the telecommuter be in constant contact or on IM (Instant Messaging) all the time, and does not expect perfection.
A manager who says “They are not working unless I see the whites of their eyes” would not make a good telecommuter manager (unless he meant by videoconferencing). By the way, that came from a conversation I had with someone in line at the Movie Theater in Tracy.
Formal or Informal
The telecommuting effort can be formal or informal. Either way, it is a good idea for the manager and the telecommuter to sit down together and generate a written agreement of what is expected.
This document will list the number of days to be spent telecommuting, what resources are available for equipment, deadlines, goals, and other productivity measures each expect. This document should be mutually agreeable to both, and both should agree to terminate telecommuting should it come to that.
In NO instance should a statement like this be part of the agreement: “The company can terminate telecommuting for no reason”. There has to be a reason. Both manager and telecommuter should agree to the terms and sign the agreement.
If the company is formally starting a telecommuting effort, a “Telecommuting Administrator” should be assigned. This person is then responsible for planning the breadth and depth of the telecommuting effort.
Some of the tasks include, but, are not limited to:
• Evangelizing telecommuting within the company
• Developing telecommuting guidelines, agreements, and training material
• Recruiting the assistance of Human Resources and the IT Department
• Recruiting and training supervisors and telecommuters
• Monitoring progress and results
• Providing timely information via a blog, newsletters, and / or email
Training is very important for both the manager and telecommuter. Each needs to understand what tasks are involved and what the “do’s and don’ts” are to make the experience the best it can be.
Preparing to Telecommute
As the telecommuter, you are in a position to prove that telecommuting is of benefit to everyone, not just you.
That means you should work extra hard to meet the goals and deadlines you and your manager put down on paper before you started, and you should strive, on your telecommuting days, to remain in close contact with your boss and your colleagues.
What do you need to do at home to prepare?
You should have a work location designated where you can spend eight, or more, hours per day. This location should include an ergonomically correct chair and desk, a computer with the firewall turned on, office productivity tools (document, spreadsheet, email, instant messaging), and antivirus software, a phone line and telephone (or a cell phone), sufficient lighting, office supplies, and an Internet connection.
You need to inform family members, and friends, that you are at work when you are at this location, and that you are not to be disturbed when you are there.
It is important to maintain a set schedule as if you were commuting to work. Get up at the same time everyday, and get ready the same way. Take a shower, get dressed (if you normally wear a tie to work, you can probably be more casual on telecommute days), and “commute” to your work location.
The only difference is that now your commute takes a second (about 5,400 times shorter than a normal 90 minute commute).
Avoid the temptation to work too hard. Take breaks (this is my problem….constant sitting without a break), take lunch, and quit at a reasonable time or quitting point. Turn off the computer, straighten up your desk, and “commute” back over the threshold to the family. Watch out for heavy traffic: two-year olds running back and forth, dog lying in the threshold, etc.
When you are working at home, avoid the temptation to eat too much. Many new telecommuters tend to gain weight. But, do, feel free to take the kids to school, pick them up, and run an errand or two during the day.
Remember….your “goals” are what drive you, not the fact that you are “present” at work. Stick to your goals, meet your deadlines, stay in contact, and everyone will be happy.
If you become lonely, seek out other telecommuters in Tracy and meet for lunch. Or virtually go to work with videoconferencing (Part 5).
Make sure you and your manager communicate well and have set up reasonable goals and deadlines. Telecommute!
Part 4 of this series will introduce the “basic” technology needed to telecommute.
Reminder: If you telecommute now (or want to) and want to share your experiences in Part 6 of this series, call Mike at 209-836-0472, visit the Tel Bit Consulting web site, or write to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a nice ad from Tandberg about telecommuting: