As a contract writer, I always work from home. Admittedly, it requires discipline, particularly when the dog is being particularly cute. Still, I was very trustworthy — and more productive — even when I worked from home as a full-time employee.
As a small business owner, you might identify a number of benefits when some employees work from home (known as telecommuting) some or all of the time. But, whether you hire full-time employees or contractors, can you trust people that you can’t watch? With some pre-planning, you can set up an effective telecommuting program.
First, Identify the Employees Who Can Work From Home Effectively
Clearly, not every job permits remote employment; cashiers are a good example, as are members of a close-knit creative team. Also, recognize that you can face a degree of friction when only some employees qualify for the privilege. If you know your employees, then you know whether a program like this can work.
Once you get past that initial hurdle, you need to find an equitable way to decide if the eligible employees have resources (and the chops) to work well without direct supervision. Here are some prerequisites for success:
- Reliability at the workplace: An employee who gets the job done without too much assistance or direction is likely to be reliable when working from home.
- Distractibility: Employees who are easily distracted in the workplace might have issues when telecommuting. On the other hand, they might focus better in a quiet home environment. Granted, even successful telecommuters will take advantage of the occasional opportunity to run a quick errand outside of rush hour. But, if you expect everything from personal phone calls to family interruptions to become too intrusive, then keep them in the workplace.
- Equipment: Effective telecommuters have the basic equipment needed to do their jobs. They often need little more than a reliable computer with an Internet connection and a phone.
- Higher-tech equipment: An in-house phone extension that employees can forward to their personal phones can be a real plus for any home-based employee. Some cloud-based phone systems can do more than that. You might also consider investing in an online meeting site so they can see and hear conferences when necessary. Since employees generally use laptops in the workplace, you might prefer for them to take their office computers home rather than keeping company files on personal devices.
If any of your employees cannot handle the basic requirements, they are not generally suitable telecommuting candidates. Any concerns justify having a frank discussion before setting them loose.
Ask Them to Pre-Prove Their Dependability
Of course, once you permit telecommuting, it’s hard to take it away. So, find a way to prove their readiness for a very different work environment.
A great option is to ask them to write their own proposal or complete a form that asks specific questions about the suitability of their home environments. But, be careful; you need to avoid asking questions that might be interpreted as prejudicial. Asking them to list potential home distractions is fine. Asking how many children are in the home is probably inappropriate.
Even when you approve the arrangement, create a pre-set trial period — and clearly state that the privilege is not necessarily permanent.
Trust, but Verify
Telecommuters are no longer under your eagle eye, but that doesn’t mean that you can no longer supervise them. The following techniques can really make a difference:
- Check output: If they’re still turning out the same amount of high-quality work, then you know they’re still productive. Don’t be surprised if some telecommuters actually turn out more work from home.
- Maintain contact: Don’t be a pest, but call, text or email them periodically. Make sure that they know that they are welcome to contact you as well. And, if they have to leave, especially if they must remain incommunicado for a period of time, ask them to let you know.
- Make sure that co-workers know that they can call, too: Remote employees’ contact information should be no secret to anyone on the team. Telecommuters should never become isolated. Getting in touch should be as easy as it would be if all employees were at adjacent desks.
Feel free to add to this list. Your goal is to ensure that remote employees remain productive members of your team. Telecommuting is a privilege when employees take responsibility. As such, you may need to adjust your supervisory methods somewhat; but, you should not have to devote more time and effort supervising remote employees than anyone else on your staff.
Good Programs Benefit Employees and the Business
When it comes to employee benefits, small businesses cannot typically compete with their larger competitors. But, make no mistake: working from home is a huge benefit, and you need to make sure that your telecommuters recognize and appreciate the opportunity.
Your business can see certain benefits, as well, such as the following:
- Increased productivity: The right home environment creates a work factory for many employees. Your biggest problem may be keeping them busy enough.
- Better hiring prospects: You can’t compete with huge corporations when it comes to providing mega -benefits. But, during a time when some of the biggies — like Yahoo, Bank of America and IBM are calling their telecommuters back into the office, the prospects are better for hiring the best employees when they learn that they can work from home at least some of the time. When discussing employee benefits during the interview, don’t forget to stress this one, if appropriate.
- Reduced use of company resources: When employees work from home every day, they don’t need dedicated desks in the workplace, even if you need to reserve desk space for temporary use when they visit. Your square-footage might be smaller, and you are likely to experience reduced office supply usage as well.
A well-considered telecommuting program is a bonus to everyone. In fact, as long as you have someone available to fill in for you when needed, you might consider taking an occasional work-from-home day yourself.