Kate Lister, coauthor of Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home and owner of the Telework Research Network, describes businesses that will benefit most from remote workers: “Anytime you’ve got somebody sitting in front of a computer screen for the majority of the day or sitting at a telephone…those are the kind of people that ought to be [working] remotely.”
Still, businesses have plenty of concerns about managing a remote workforce and what impact it might have on everyone else. “A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, we’re never going to see our employees, our culture’s going to suffer, everyone will be lonely,’ and so on and so forth,” Lister said. The fact is that most people work from home just half of the time.
Nevertheless, not everyone is cut out to work from home. David Ballard, PsyD, assistant executive director with the American Psychological Association, believes that the telecommuters who excel tend to work very well independently. “In general, those employees for whom telecommuting is a good fit are extremely happy with their work arrangements,” Ballard said. “Employees often cite the autonomy and flexibility that telecommuting allows as two of the most valuable aspects of the job.”
Jenny Benevento, taxonomist and user experience architect for Sears Holdings Corporation, works from home a few days a week due to a lack of space in the company’s downtown Chicago office. “I think Sears would like to have people who currently work in the office working at home because it can trust those people to deliver,” said Benevento. “And then Sears can use the cubes for the new people.”
To help businesses plan their strategies, there are numerous examples of telecommuting and remote working policies available on the web, including Telework.gov and Lister’s TeleworkResearchNetwork.com. A good policy lays out ground rules, such as working hours, responsibility for expenses, methods of communication, how IT support will be handled, child care, and liability issues.
In most cases, your business will not have to fork over money for remote workstations. Dr. Eileen Gallagher, program chair for the education department at American Intercontinental University, also works from home full time. She says that all of her professors, as well as the students, are responsible for having a computer with Internet access on which to conduct classes. “The main campus is the online program. The teachers have to provide their own equipment, but the school provides all of the software.”
Lister concurred, telling us, “the majority of companies do not pay for home office technology.”
Beyond saving money on gas and achieving a better work-life balance, both Dr. Gallagher and Benevento cited the ability to exert more control over their daily schedules and to prioritize independently as key benefits of remote working. “When non-important issues come up, like when an e-mail pops up and someone wants something but it’s really not a priority, I can put it off,” Dr. Gallagher said. “In a face-to-face environment, when someone walks in and they want something, they’re going to wait there until you give it to them, regardless of how inconsequential it is.” Because Dr. Gallagher has a 24- to 48-hour window to answer e-mails, and she can turn off instant messaging if she’s really swamped, she can prioritize much better in the online environment than she ever could at the office.
Benevento believes that she’s also more efficient as a telecommuter than as a traditional office worker, because she “definitely schedules things more than before.” While she was once at the whim of those who scheduled a meeting with her, Benevento now has more control over her calendar, which has made her more productive. “That’s sort of a responsibility that you get,” Benevento said. “You’re expected to get things done or at least be more present. If anything, I think it makes me communicate more often with my boss.”