In a study recently published in Personnel Psychology, researchers found that in some cases, employees who are given the opportunity to work remotely (telecommute) are more productive and better co-workers. In addition, Global Workplace Analytics summarized more than 500 studies about telecommuting and found the following factors that could impact a small business’ bottom line:
- Thirty-six percent of employees would choose telework over a pay raise.
- Almost all (95 percent) of the employers surveyed say telework helps with employee retention.
- Unscheduled employee absences cost employers $1,800 per employee per year, but organizations that implemented a telecommuting program saw a 63 percent reduction in those absences.
- More than two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among telecommuting employees.
- Six out of 10 employers cite cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting.
- Over 70 percent of employees say the ability to telecommute will be somewhat to extremely important when choosing their next job.
- Offering the option to telecommute expands a business’ hiring pool to include those who live in other states, the disabled, and retirees who want to go back to work with a more flexible schedule.
But what does all of this mean to small-business owners? Even if you only have a few employees, it’s possible to allow them to work from home and reap the benefits noted above. With today’s technology, there’s no reason even small, home-based businesses can’t set up a telecommuting program that works for everyone. Here’s what you need to do to set up a successful program.
Pinpoint Your Motivating Factors
What are your reasons for considering a telecommuting program? Is it to increase worker productivity? Reduce employee expenses? Global Analytics offers a free ROI calculator that can help you determine your potential savings. Or, do you run your business from your home, and struggle to find enough space for your employees? Maybe you need to hire a specialist for your business, but can’t find a qualified applicant in your area. For instance, Tom Droste, President of Logical Engine, says allowing employees to telecommute allowed him to hire qualified people who otherwise might not have been able to take the job. It also saved him relocation expenses in several cases, too.
Ideally, you should be able to identify several factors and incorporate them into a telecommuting policy that gives you and your employees the greatest benefit.
Identify Who Will Telecommute
You probably can’t allow all of your employees to work remotely all of the time. And not all employees will do well as telecommuters. According to a report by The Research Advisors, the decision about which of your employees should telecommute should be based on what job duties can be performed away from the office, and whether the employees you’re considering have work habits and home lives favorable to telecommuting. Droste says he’s had technical employees, programmers, and support technicians, as well as administrative employees, project managers, and accounting employees telecommute in his company. But, he warns, if you’re not able to determine your employee’s productivity by their output or results, it may not make sense to allow your employees to telecommute.
Be Prepared to Manage Differently
Managing employees who telecommute is different from managing employees you see in the office every day. Telecommuters should be independent and self-directed. Droste says it helps to have well-defined job duties because it makes it easier to keep track of employee productivity. In addition, he says, you should have systems in place to communicate with remote employees as if they were in the office. For instance, you can get face-to-face time with them via Skype or use a phone system that supports mobile phones as extensions. Employees will also need a high-speed internet connection at home, and a way to remotely access the company’s systems and software. You should be able to find a newer virtual private network (VPN) product that fits within your budget. Finally, a telecommuting work relationship must be built on trust. The Global Workplace Analytics summery shows that 75 percent of managers say they trust their telecommuters, but a third of them would still like to be able to see them, just to be sure.
Droste says allowing telecommuting has made his employees happier, which means they work harder for him than they would have if he required them to come into the office.