Quick Links: Return To Entrepreneur’s Resource Center

Telecommuting: Pros and Cons

Digital Library > Operations and Technology > Virtual offices “Telecommuting: Pros and Cons”

Viable telecommuting programs require clear policies, advance trouble-shooting, and unconventional management styles. But they can pay off in happier, more productive workers.

OVERVIEW [top]Over 16 million Americans are currently working at least part-time from home offices, and that number is expected to pass 30 million by 2005 (Executive Summary of Telework America Research Results, 2000). According to the American Telecommuting Association in Washington, D.C., telecommuting is second only to casual days as the fastest-growing shift from traditional work patterns.

The strong economy coupled with high employment rates has created a positive environment for alternative work styles. Modern telecommunications technology makes it possible for home workers to send and receive the information they need to stay in touch with colleagues and clients. Furthermore, this technology continues to become more portable and cost-effective.

Still, not every enterprise or employee is suited for home-based work. A viable telecommuting program requires commitment and responsibility on the parts of both the employer and the employee.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • The pros and cons of telecommuting.
  • How to implement a telecommuting program.

If you need guidelines for managing a dispersed team of workers, see the Quick-Read Solution Virtual Workplace Management.

SOLUTION [top]

Telecommuting takes many forms. Some employees rarely set foot in their corporate workplaces, while others have structured schedules for shuttling between multiple offices. Some live across the country, and still others may occasionally retreat to the quiet and comfort of their homes to complete reading or writing assignments away from distractions. Some companies set up satellite work centers in areas where employee homes are clustered.

Before you implement a telecommuting program, weigh the pros and cons.

A primary advantage is that productivity can be 10% to 15% higher for home office workers and sick time is decreased, according to some research studies. Companies save money on real estate and capital expenditures because the need for offices, utilities and parking spaces is reduced (although you may still have to spring for ergonomic home office furniture to meet OSHA requirements). And, with the current labor shortage, companies can keep good employees who want to be more available to their families and can attract new ones who prefer to work alone or during nontraditional hours. Employees are more content when they can eliminate frustrating commutes and have more discretionary time. The opportunity to work from home aids recruitment — both because it’s an appealing perk and because it expands the geographic area of potential applicants.

On the downside, some employees need the close support of their peers and supervisors. They may not be able to motivate themselves to work alone or master the technology that is needed to stay in touch. Many business owners find it impractical for all their employees to work from a remote location.

Some of the costs to be considered may include the following:

  • Computer and telecommunications equipment for the remote location, including transportation, installation, maintenance and insurance for loss.
  • Training to use the necessary new equipment, to function in the new system (interpersonal communications) and to prepare managers to supervise remote workers.
  • Work-time costs: Setting up the program; convincing managers they don’t have to supervise face-to-face; adding new accounting, budgeting, and tech-support standards; and establishing new human resources policies and procedures (for example, reporting time worked, insurance for injuries when on duty at home).

Many experts suggest that you start small when implementing a telecommuting program. Set a trial period of at least three months. Identify a handful of employees that will make the best candidates for telecommuters, based upon their motivation level and responsibilities. At first, have them work away from the corporate office one day a week. After a month or two, increase it to two days. You may want to require that all employees work certain core hours and be accessible during those times.

Other considerations:

  1. Because you are most likely equipping the home offices, you’ll need technical-support personnel who can set up them up, take them down and troubleshoot when problems arise.
  2. Off-site workers should be required to sign a contract that stipulates what equipment the company is supplying, when and how it should be returned, and what expenses will be reimbursed.
  3. Set clear performance standards for off-site workers. These standards should be results-oriented rather than activity-oriented.
  4. If your telecommuters are in different time zones, decide how that will affect business operations and how you wish to handle it.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

In the early 1990s, Erica and Brian Swerdlow founded EBS Public Relations in their Northbrook, Ill., basement. Two years later they leased office space, but Erica continued to work part-time from home so she could spend more time with their children.

The company grew to 40 employees, and several became telecommuters. One was the marketing director, who would have otherwise quit after she became a mother. Another employee lives in Seattle.

“We’ve been able to keep incredible employees and draw from a wider labor pool,” says Erica.

Successful telecommuting requires technology and monitoring, she says. Her employees are required to provide their work schedules and attend quarterly meetings in order to stay connected to the home office.

“You still have to have a work environment at home,” she says. “You can’t have screaming babies in the background when you’re talking to a client.”

Porter Novelli Convergence Group acquired EBS in January 2000. Erica, now executive vice president, still frequently works from home.

“I don’t think that everybody can do it all the time,” she says. “You still need certain numbers of people in the corporate office for stability and cultural reasons. And you can’t make anyone work at home who doesn’t want to.”

DO IT [top]

  1. Survey your employees to determine their interest in telecommuting. Ask them why they believe they will be successful and which of their duties they can perform off-site as well or better than they do in the corporate office.
  2. Administer the Telecommuting Affinity Index, available from the American Telecommuting Association, to identify which employees are most suited to working from home. Those who are self-directed and have established a history of meeting deadlines are usually the best choices.
  3. Ask your computer gurus to figure the equipment and costs to set up remote offices as well as a plan to service them as needed. The list might include computer, printer, telephone line, voice mail, Internet connection, pager and fax machine.
  4. Ask your legal counsel to draft a telecommuter’s contract. You can download a generic sample from www.gilgordon.com or obtain one from the American Telecommuting Association. You’ll want to include the company’s expectations of its telecommuters, such as how often they are required to work in the corporate office and when they are to be accessible.
  5. Create performance objectives for each telecommuter to accomplish while away from the office. Ask supervisors to monitor the objectives on a regular basis.
  6. Offer training seminars in subjects such as time management and the use of telecommunications equipment.
  7. Set a time period for your pilot program — three to six months is optimal.
  8. At the end of the pilot program, ask the telecommuters and their supervisors to suggest improvements and changes before discontinuing the program or enrolling more employees.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Organizational Guide to Telecommuting: Setting Up and Running a Successful Telecommuter Program by George M. Piskurich (American Society for Training & Development, 1998).

Telecommuting: A Manager’s Guide to Flexible Work Arrangements by Joel Kugelmass (Lexington Books, 1995).

Internet Sites

Telecommuting, Telework and Alternative Officing

American Telecommuting Association

Article Contributors

Writer: Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Related Articles...
Passing the Fair-Pay Test: Determining if Your Salaries are Competitive

How do your salaries stack up against your competitors’? Keep your employees — and keep them happy — by comparing pay rates across your industry.

Read More ...
Extreme Measures — Firing Customers

Digital Library > Defining and Serving a Market > Target marketing “Extreme Measures — Firing Customers” Sometimes firing a customer is good business sense, according to Norm Brodsky, owner of CitiStorage Inc., a New York-based records-storage company. Indeed, Brodsky quickly tired of a $200,000 account’s repeated verbal abuse of CitiStorage employees. He informed the customer that unless the abuse stopped,

Read More ...
One Big Client Isn’t Better

Blood, sweat and lawyer cum receptionist put Idamar into the black.

Read More ...
Moving Closer to the Talent Pool

Relocation boosts staff by 50% in two months.

Read More ...
For Better Presentations: Think in 3s, ‘Paint Pictures’, Wiggle Your Toes

“For Better Presentations: Think in 3s, ‘Paint Pictures’, Wiggle Your Toes” Audiences ask three questions: status quo? challenge? solution? You’re given 10 minutes to rouse the interest of a venture capitalist or sales prospect, so you talk extra fast to cover everything. Bad move.In your excitement, you may hop from point to point haphazardly. Enthusiasm can work against you if

Read More ...