How to Make Telecommuting Work for Both Employees and Companies

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Thanks to technology, the phrase “working from home” no longer has to be accompanied by air quotes. Gone are the days when everyone took that statement to be a euphemism for “I’m actually going to goof off.” Computers and the Internet now make it possible for many employees to escape their offices and work from nearly anywhere—and assignment-and time-tracking software ensures that they stay on task.

Employees like telecommuting for many reasons, including the schedule flexibility, the lack of a commute, and the ability to focus on work without the distractions of a busy office. Employers like telecommuting because it offers potential savings in overhead costs (most notably those associated with maintaining physical office space) and it’s a desirable perk that can help a firm land top talent.

Enabling employees to work from home definitely offers benefits to both workers and their companies. More and more workers are prioritizing telecommute arrangements when looking for jobs—and more and more companies are accommodating (and sometimes even embracing) those preferences.

For that reason, staffers and recruiters need to be prepared to help make telecommuting benefit both workers and companies. Start by making sure that the following elements are in place:

Designated office space at home. Telecommuters may be tempted to kick their feet up on the ottoman and work from the comfort of their sofas all day long, but this arrangement isn’t ideal for work. Employees need a space where they can do their jobs (and where they can keep their work-related stuff), such as a home office in a spare bedroom or another out-of-the-way part of the house.

The ability to store and access work files in the cloud. Cloud computing has been the game changer for working from home. Today, with a computer and an Internet connection, telecommuters can easily access everything they need to do their jobs from anywhere in the world. Make sure that your telecommuting workers have the equipment they need to work remotely and that your client companies have cloud-based structures in place for them to use.

Fixed schedules. Have telecommuting employees set working hours and try their best to stick to them. Don’t expect them to put in more hours than they would if they worked in the office (think work/life balance). At the same time, dissuade them from scheduling personal appointments during standard office hours.

Boundaries between home and work. Make sure that your telecommuters don’t mix their home tasks with their work tasks. (For example, they shouldn’t try to conduct phone interviews while folding their laundry!) And unless they live alone, there’s a good chance that their workday may be interrupted by family members at a time when they need to focus. Encourage them to hang some sort of “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door during those times when they absolutely can’t be interrupted (while making a phone call, for example) or just need to get work done. At the same time, encourage your client companies to respect the work-home boundary as well by not assuming that workers are available at all hours just because they’re at home. Remind companies that building a reputation as telecommute-friendly organizations can help them attract top talent for their open positions.

Break periods. Remind telecommuters to step away from their computers periodically and, if possible, to go for short walks during those times to benefit from a change in scenery. Encourage your client companies to have their managers (gently) remind their telecommuters from time to time to take breaks.

Office visit policies. Make sure your employees visit the company office from time to time (weekly or monthly, perhaps). They may work from home but they’re still part of your client’s organization—and you don’t want anyone to forget that. It’s good for telecommuters and their managers to touch base in person regularly with each other so that “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t cause problems down the road.