As the economy continues to give us a bit of a bumpy go, companies are still looking for smart ways to cut costs and retain talent. Some business owners have found an easy answer: allowing employees to work outside the office. According to a U.S. study, virtual work policies can save businesses $400 billion (around £269,640,000,000) every year. In fact, a 100-employee company could save $576,000 (around £388,281) if it allowed employees to work from home just half of the time. Savings include reduction in turnover costs and employee absenteeism, office supplies, increased energy efficiency, and more.
With such staggering figures, one would think small businesses trying to save money would jump at the chance to implement telecommuting options, but many still aren’t. Why? Fear and uncertainty is my guess. Some business owners fear loss of control over their employees, while others are just not sure how to get started.
My response to that is two-fold. Firstly – you’ll never get anywhere in business if you aren’t willing to take a few risks and try something new. So, if you’re interested in telecommuting, give it a go. If you do institute this work model, my second bit of advice is to develop a telecommuting policy.
Now, I’m a bit of an individualist and prefer to take my chances. As such, policies aren’t typically my favourite subjects. However, I do think a telecommuting policy is essential to the success of the program. A policy will ensure that while everyone may not be in the same office, everyone is on the same page and clearly understands expectations and requirements. A standard policy will help to ensure that telecommuting is valuable for your staff and your business.
Here are some tips I’ve learned from my own experience and from some of our loyal customers at Powwownow on what to include in a telecommuting policy:
It sounds obvious, but ensuring employees know what hours they are expected to work is important. Often, staff can confuse the right to telecommute with the right to create their own hours. If you decide to instill flex hours as well, make that a separate policy. Otherwise, be sure employees know when they are expected to be working, regardless of where they are working.
Equipment Guidelines and Resources
Help telecommuters make the transition by providing guidelines for efficiency in your policy – and include a list of resources for equipment. Does your telecommuter need an office door? A headset? A laptop? A fax machine or printer? While access to such equipment is assumed in most offices, one cannot assume every home office to be properly equipped. Set clear guidelines and offer resources so the virtual workplace mirrors the physical workplace and employees continue to be as efficient as always. I wrote a previous post on some other tools for virtual success that could also help you decide what your employees may need to be comfortable and productive.
Out of sight should not mean out of mind. You’ll need to be very clear about what’s expected from telecommuters in regards to updating managers, collaborating with teams, holding meetings and more. Be sure people are connected and collaborative and know what the requirements are for reporting their work and hours.
Many companies require telecommuting employees have an instant messaging technology, like Google Talk, open at all times during business hours. Maybe you’ll require daily updates in a shared network environment like Desktop Central. One telecommuting tip I’ve found to be efficient – and necessary – is to pick up the phone. Often, when working alone, employees default to working in a silo and need to be reminded to stay in touch.
If you previously had regular meetings, you should continue to do so. Routine is important to maintain consistency and a sense of shared responsibility and contribution. With free conference and web sharing services, like Powwownow, meetings are instant and easy, don’t harness or retain sensitive personal data, and can be scheduled ahead of time, recorded and more. If you require employees to participate in meetings, be sure you outline which tools or services they are expected to use and provide training as needed.
Training and Culture Requirements
Managing a staff in the office is a little different than overseeing staff you can’t actually see. You’ll need to provide your supervisors with proper training on how to manage virtually, and require ongoing education in this vein. Part of that is my “pick up the phone” advice from earlier – it’s not complicated, but it’s important, especially from managers. Ensure that they continue to lead telecommuting staff just as diligently as they do non-telecommuters: provide clear direction, ensure proper resources, celebrate wins and share good news. Keep staff connected by soliciting feedback, holding people accountable for work and having proper reporting procedures in place. Again, I recommend putting IT and tech requirements into your policy, but also providing proper and ongoing training for their use. Make a monthly or quarterly mandatory training – and take attendance.
For the most part, I find that employees appreciate the opportunity to work from home and respect it accordingly. But a policy is always a good idea to avoid unnecessary complications and ensure a successful business.
I continue to tweak my own telecommuting policy based on great advice and tips I receive from others. So, what have you found absolutely essential to communicate in your telecommuting policy?