Telecommuting Benefits and Strategies

(This post is also found at my professional site: http://www.happyhelpdesk.net/)

Remote work, working from home, road warrior, telecommuting – working out of any place other than the central office – a rose by any other name…
Some love it, some can’t quite grasp the idea, some despise it; what causes such diverse emotions?

Like anything else you have to listen to others about the sides of the argument and, if possible, experience it for yourself. If you’re new to the idea, or considering it, I present many things here for you to keep in mind. I hope it will present more information than the articles that I’ve read, and that I think you may have read.

If you don’t work remotely, what are your gut feelings about it? What are your initial questions and concerns? If you work remotely, what are your experiences?

Having remoted for a few years, I’m a proponent. But not everyone is – we even had one man quit because we made the telecommuting move. I didn’t ask details, though. He just made it known that he would find a new job if we went that direction.

I know some managers and business owners who are not too keen on it. In thinking through the objections, I decided to write about it, as there are many upsides to remoting, and many things that a leader needs to keep in mind about remoting.

As a proponent (EVERY author has his biases, and NO author or writer is completely objective), I want to consider the Benefits and Strategies, instead of any Pros and Cons. There’s nothing bad at all about telecommuting – it really all comes down to objections about “I don’t want to do it” (for the workers) or “I don’t know how to make it work” (for the managers).

BENEFITS (FOR BOTH EMPLOYEE AND EMPLOYER)

More, and more productive, days of work — remember all of those days that you couldn’t go to the office because you had puffy and watery eyes, runny nose, pain in your lower back, headache? Now you can get work done, and not take so many days off, even when you’re not running on all cylinders. People really don’t enjoy getting others ill. But when the choice is between taking a day off because you don’t feel up-to-par and going to the office because you don’t want to waste those precious vacation days for just feeling a little lousy – you’ll go in.

If the remote worker has to be at home for the plumber or electrician, there’s no need to take any time off. You’re there, so just take 10 minutes to show what needs to be done and then get back to work.

Better health – One doesn’t have to go and touch the coffee pot that the aforementioned sick guy used, handle the germ-laden doors, or breathe in the recirculated office air that’s used by upteen numbers of people. You don’t have to be in close proximity to those mentioned above who had to choose the lesser of two evils. In between calls, or on a conference call, or when waiting for a call, or when watching a webinar – go eat something healthy, or prop your feet up, or walk around. You can actually eat better, workout and stretch more, and have more freedom in moving.

This brings in the question: How much does our workplace promote productivity? or does it require so much professional propriety that we are squelched in our ability to get things done?

Instant raise – you don’t have to eat out as much; you don’t spend the gas and wear-and-tear for your vehicle; you may even be able to tell your insurance that you no longer have a primary work vehicle. I know a man who didn’t get a new car when his broke down because he didn’t have to go into work. He and his wife just used their sole vehicle, so lots of money saved.

In short, you don’t have to get paid more (at least not right away) to realize a financial benefit. For you managers, you instantly give your employees more money because you’re decreasing, sometimes dramatically, their expenses.

Your own bathroom – yes, it’s a good deal.

Your own refrigerator – yes, it’s a huge perk.

Reduction of car insurance – potentially no more need for the employee to pay “this is the car I drive to work every day so I have more chances of a wreck” insurance.

It’s easier on the environment – just think of how much less the emissions would be if your 10/100/1000 employees weren’t driving an hour each day. Morale – You have a higher morale because the employee now saves at least 10 hours a week -they get that much time added back to their lives. If your round trip drive time is 1-hour/day, and your prep time (shower, shave, getting dressed, breakfast, etc.) is 1 hour), that’s 2 hours/day. That’s a big deal.

Fewer expenses – fewer lunches out (though perhaps more options for lunch nearby or with family), fewer showers (gasp!), less money spent on clothing and other things – it can really add up. Not everyone will find a great reduction, especially if they continue daily showers and dressing up, but there are certainly ways to greatly reduce your expenses.

Compensation – As a manager/owner, you have to keep in mind the whole benefits package, not just salary. So try some basic calculation: Scenario A: You offer X a job – 50K/yr, and 10K expenses, working at the office. Scenario B: You offer X a job – 45K/yr, 5K expenses, working from home. Which works out better for the hirer? Is there much difference for the employee? You can certainly get into the detailed expenses for the particular potential hire; your potential employee probably will do the math. With remoting more and more popular, it could be a deal-breaker: if the employee finds out that his final tally (40K) is the same when comparing the company that makes him drive more, spend more money, and spend more time to the company that lets him stay home…

More work gets done – since your commute to work is now 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes, and there’s no traffic or leaving things behind or getting more stuff ready, you can focus on work and get a lot done. A concern: working too much – but that’s under STRATEGIES.

Bandwidth – Employee: you get to use your own bandwidth. Employer: your employees use their own bandwidth! You could either decrease the bandwidth at your office, or increase the current use since fewer people are using it. Increased learning – I no longer have to bother with bothering coworkers when I watch a webinar or take an online course. I can

STRATEGIES

For both those who work at home and those who manage them, there are strategies to keep in mind. There are distractions, noise, a need to be motivated, a sense of loneliness. In order to make it work, both employee and employer have to use different strategies for keeping in touch and measuring goals than if they used at the office.

Being at home can be quite different than being in the office. For those who are people-people, then they can feel alone. For managers who are used to pulling people into a meeting at any moment, it can seem to squash that sudden creativity. (Questions: Does your creativity thrive and subsist on interrupting others when they’re being creative? Who’s creativity and productivity are you thinking about – yours or the company’s?).

*More phone calls and video conferences *- you have to stay connected. Even those who need solitude for their job (e.g., graphic artists and programmers) need to know that they’re doing something important and are appreciated.

Corporate IM – You can use some corporate IM (e.g., MS Lync) to check on people and communicate with them. People don’t necessarily like being monitored that way, but it’s an option.

Tracking productivity – yes, it’s a big deal. You as the manager have to find some way of knowing that your hires are working. You the employee need to be able to see that you’re making progress. Working from home can lend itself to being sloppy or lazy. The primary predictor is if they were productive and trustworthy before you sent them home. Productivity is an issue – both sides need to remember that remoting is not just for comfort…it’s to improve business.. You’ll have to come up with some performance metrics.

Motivation – How do you keep yourself and your hires motivated to work while at home? Do they feel connected? Are they overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Without any internal motivation, you might find yourself sitting for a longer period of time, so you have to come up with some way to stay motivated to move, engage and interact. If you’re not an at-home person, then you may not have to remote. Many companies need someone at the physical office, so you could take that position.

Should I hire someone to drive in, or work from home? Here are the things for the employee to consider: gross pay, car expenses (gas, wear-and-tear), time spent getting ready, time used driving (including inclement weather), clothing expenses, car insurance.

Things for you, the hirer, to consider: how much do you pay them? How much are you paying to compensate for all of their expenses (car, clothing, food)? How much time do your traveling employees lose by getting stuck in traffic? How much time is lost when employees have to stay home because it’s icy or snowy? Do you think it’s a benefit that the employee’s family knows that your employee won’t get in a wreck?

Office space – You probably already have office space. If you’re in a big office, you may be looking at cutting your losses and losing money in the beginning. As an owner, you have to look at the long-term implications of keeping your office space. Over the next 10 years, how much money will your company spend by staying at your location? Then compare that to how much you’ll save by getting a smaller central office and sending most people home. It’s a reality that not every company can go 100% telecommuting. There are physical packages to send and receive, mail to send out, the need to have a central meeting place for clients. But it could prove beneficial to relocate to a smaller office space.

Getting work done – While it’s easier to get work done, it can be easy to work too much. It can be easy to constantly think, “I’m only a few minutes away from being able to log on, so I’ll go ahead and do it.” This can be dangerous; you can start training people to think that you’re easily available almost all the time. Don’t set yourself up for this. Keep regularly available hours. Your boss has to back you up on this. There will probably come a time when one or more people think they have a real emergency, and you’re not “available,” and they call you out on it. Be ready to set your boundaries. It might seem like a different mindset, but it’s not. If you had left the office and were just starting your 30-minute drive home, and then you have dinner somewhere with your family, you’d have no qualms saying, “I’ll get t o it tomorrow.” You have to have the same mindset – you’re off work, and will attend to it at the proper time.

Computer Security – Yes, there’s a chance that people will download corporate information to their own computers or devices. This, however, is already an issue which the company should be addressing. With the proliferation and ubiquity of mobile devices, if your employees are going to steal or funnel data, it’s already happening. So it’s independent of remoting. But the threat needs to be addresses, and can be done with port security (e.g., securing USB ports on company computers).

Remote Support – No, you shouldn’t go to people’s homes to fix their company PCs. You need to find some way to view their computers over the internet. WebEx, GoToMeeting, VNC, TeamViewer, Lync – there are lots of options. If you’ve got 20+ people, you should already be using at least one of these so that your current IT support isn’t spending their time running the stairs and leaving their desks for every issue. In that case, just continue and widen its use.

Who pays for working at home? – Who pays for the internet? Who pays for a router? and other related questions. There’s not a right-or-wrong answer, but think about what 1. you can afford as a business, and 2. what the long-term scale-out would be. Maybe you have 5 employees and can foot the bill to start with, but what about 2 years down the road? If you’re concerned that paying now and recanting later would be an issue, it probably won’t be. You’re employees will probably be will to pay their own internet bill, plus some minor expenses throughout the year, in order to save thousands of dollars a year by working from home. But be ready to define the parameters, such as “We’ll provide the business equipment (phone, computer, monitor), and you provide the internet connection (which they most likely already have and pay for).”

How I deal with some of these:

Wellness – Don’t fool yourself by thinking that everyone in America is always working all the time, especially since you see them working now and then. Everyone takes a little time to browse, surf, get some coffee, talk to a friend or family member on the phone – everyone does something personal during their work day. Why not take some of that free remoting time to do pushups or pull-ups? Why not make your coffee your way? I’ll do those and many other things throughout the course of the weeks, months, and years, simply because it’s good to do and no one’s around to notice that I’m sweating or sipping during a conference call!

During a webinar I’ll bring in my dumbbells, mat, pull up bar, kettle bells – whatever I want to do. , I exercise while I watch, listen and learn.
People trying to get you to work outside of your normal hours (this is related to Getting Work Done) – This happens anyway, but it can become a little more intense when you remote. You really CAN squeeze in a few minutes, and you really CAN get it done then…so why not? Come up with any valid reason not to do it, but the point is to keep regular hours. The company I work for currently has a set time for hours of operation, even for IT (at least as far as customer support). I just simply don’t answer the email, even if I see it. I have other things to do in my life, and remoting doesn’t lessen my family or other responsibilities. Remoting means, at minimum, that the company and I both get the work done more efficiently and effectively. It doesn’t automatically open me up to be available 24/7.

Time Management – I use the Pomodoro technique. To be forthright, I don’t always use it. My job is largely interrupt-driven, or after-hours, so there aren’t a lot of things that require being timed, or planned concentration. But when I do need time management, I use Pomodoro.

Distractions – If silence is a bother, then put on some music. If that bothers the people at your home, spend $20 on decent headphones. Living things (spouses, children, pets, postal workers, neighbors) make noise, so be prepared to press Mute on your phone. Be creative, but you have to adapt to the home environment.

I also have a little AA battery-powered blinking light that I have next to my office door. I’ll turn that on when I get on the phone so that my family knows that I’m on the phone and that they need to respect the conversation.
Talking on the phone – I use a headset so that I can get up and walk around. I put people on mute when they’re talking and three’s background noise. Again, I use the blinking light.

Paying – I’m more than happy to pay now and then for a new keyboard and mouse, or to upgrade my line, or get a new wireless router, just so that I can work from home. Our company provides the work equipment, and I take care of the rest.

A major aspect of remote working is creativity, both in working from home and managing those who work from there. You have to analyze the things that you have issues with and find a way to overcome them. And you need to balance those annoyances with the benefits – don’t forget the tons of benefits of working from home. Telecommuting is the future of many jobs, because more and more positions open up that just need a phone, a computer and an internet connection. And if that’s all that’s needed, you might as well invest in your home.

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