Setup A Telecommuting Program Quickly in Five Easy Steps

The most effective and sustainable telecommuting programs are based on each organization’s outcomes, have measurable deliverables and focus on both employees’ and managers’ needs. The result is a program that maximizes returns for the organization and positive impact on telecommuters and their co-workers. These efforts take a deliberate investigation and implementation plan, effective communication and active participation tracking and program adjustments.

As is true in other areas of life, and some might say all areas of life, sometimes life throws a last minute master-wrench into the works with little notice.

5stepstotelework
© istockphotpo/kabliczech

Business disruptions with little notice can take many forms. Some events such don’t provide any notice. Other events such as transit strikes can provide just enough time to put together a basic telecommuting program. Major events can disrupt business and require employees to spend hours in traffic or attempt to get to work in any available mass-transit options. Some employees may informally work from home, or “telecommute”, under the scrutiny of wary employers and managers.

Implementing a basic telecommuting program doesn’t have to be a major effort. It can be done quickly and successfully following five simple steps. Basic programs may not provide the same returns but employers will avoid many of the pitfalls of an informal program, providing relief to some employees while supporting their managers and co-workers.

Step #1: Develop simple guidelines for participation.

This may sound like an onerous task but there are a vast number of sample guidelines online that you can start with and use the components that you find useful. A key outcome of developing telecommuting guidelines is that you are setting up your telecommuting program as a privilege to be earned and not a right. Important questions to answer in your guidelines include:

A. Who approves the program?
Typically an employee’s manager approves a telecommuting arrangement as they are the most familiar with their employees’ job-tasks and how they collaborate in the workplace. If the manager doesn’t think that the employee can telecommute they can’t, period! We will provide decision factors below.

B. What technology does the employee need?
Is it ok for an employee to use their personal computer at home? Do they already have a company laptop that they can use at home? Do they have a high-speed Internet connection? Do they need a scanner, fax machine or any other technology at home that they need to complete their job? Ensure that telecommuters aren’t getting job-tasks done because they don’t have the right technology at home.

C. What data and files can be accessed or taken home?
If an employee accesses highly sensitive data or if they are in a position in which regulations apply, (e.g. HIPPA, government audits), can they access this data remotely?

Step #2: Provide parameters for suitable job-tasks and collaboration needs.

These are the two main factors of an employee’s job that determine telecommuting suitability. This is not only true for the success of the telecommuters but for the success of their in-office co-workers as well. There are three elements for an employee to consider:

A. Which of their job-tasks are suitable for them to be focusing on while they’re telecommuting?
These are job-tasks that don’t need special equipment or data/files that can’t be accessed remotely. These job-tasks can also be done independently or through remote collaboration.

B. Which of their job-tasks can employees not do while telecommuting on days that they will be working remotely?
Employees often have enough job-tasks to allow them to telecommute one or more days per week. The question is whether they have job-tasks that they perform on a daily basis, or on the day(s) that they will be telecommuting, that they can’t do remotely. These job tasks need to be formally handed over to another employee, not left to be picked up by whoever notices that they aren’t getting done. Job-tasks can be switched among employees, with a manager’s approval, so ensure that they are completed and in-office employees are not picking up additional work.

C. What type of collaboration does an employee conduct on telecommuting days?
Some collaboration cannot be done as effectively remotely. This can be due to meeting structures, equipment needed or the ability to access physical files that are only available in the office. Employees must be able to effectively collaborate remotely for during an entire telecommuting day or additional effort will be required by in-office employees.

Step #3: How often can each employee telecommute?

Based on the efforts conducted in step #2, employees can determine how many days per week they can telecommute. An employee may have suitable job-tasks to telecommute three days per week, but if they cannot be combined into three days that do not have in-office job-tasks or in-person collaboration needs the number of days may be lower, or they may not be able to telecommute at all. Remember, the telecommuting program is not just about the telecommuting employees, it’s about ensuring that employees’ jobs are still completed successfully and non-telecommuting employees do not have to pick up additional job-tasks. Employees will appreciate even one day a week out of a nasty commute!

Step #4: How will telecommuters be contacted and how will co-workers know when they are available?

A major issue with information telecommuting programs is that other employees may not know when they are telecommuting versus taking a day off, sick, traveling or conducting business at another location. A simple calendar or spreadsheet that provides telecommuting days and contact information located on the Intranet is a simple way to eliminate this potential issue.

Step #5: Does your company have the technology necessary to support telecommuters?

There are three components to this question:

A. Does your company have the technical capability, (e.g. a Virtual Private Network), that allows employees to access their work email and company files and data?
If the answer is yes you must ensure that employees can easily set themselves up on the system or your IT group is ready to support the effort.

B. How much bandwidth does your remote system have?
With the help of your IT department you should be able to determine how many telecommuters can be accessing the system at the same time without experiencing delays or the lack of ability to access the systems at all.

C. Is there data that cannot be accessed remotely due to either physical limitations or company policies that some or all of the telecommuters need?
If this data can be accessed what system security practices need to be in place to protect it?

Is this a long blog-post? Yes! Can these steps be completed in a short period of time? Yes!! Does this process work? Yes!!!

TeleworkSmart can provide you with a free set of spreadsheets to help you through these five steps. Submit your name and email below and we will send you the spreadsheets (as well as add you to our email newsletter list if you are interested).

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