Most of the experts we spoke with agreed that the success or failure of a telecommuting program depends on both the employee and the employer. And the two most important ingredients are trust and results-based management.
Trudy Spence-Parker, vice president of human resources for New Jersey American Water, says that based on her 20 years of human resources experience, the success of telecommuting is defined by a few key factors. “It depends on the technological environment; it depends on innovation requirements; it depends on whether the organization or the business is focused on managing by objectives.”
According to Lister, trust is fundamental, as is instituting a system in which you manage by results. “It doesn’t matter where people work or how or when they work. The point is do they get the job done? And the only way you’re going to know that is if you’re managing by results.”
Lister argues that regardless of whether employees are labeled as telecommuters, the majority of today’s workforce is mobile. And since many employees are away from their desks at least some of the time, businesses that employ results-based management will be more successful overall.
Telecommuters and remote workers who are away from the office the majority of the time may have to work hard to make sure that their voices are heard. There are also concerns that remote workers may start to feel isolated. For employees that rarely visit the office, there are meet-up groups of remote workers that could help keep them engaged. One such group is Jelly (WorkatJelly.com), which organizes workday get-togethers in more than 100 cities worldwide. Remote workers or freelancers bring their laptops to a communal space and work all day around other people with whom they can share both ideas and a casual work environment.
Ballard argues that regular communication with telecommuters is crucial. “If remote workers become isolated, team cohesion can suffer.” As a result, he says that it’s important for organizations to use existing technology—such as network access, shared workspaces, telephone and video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software—to keep remote workers connected to the team’s day-to-day functioning. Ballard added that those in the office “should be trained in the skills required to effectively manage telecommuters.”
Working remotely has side benefits as well. Benevento says that if people know she’s not going to be in the office, they’ll send her a really direct e-mail in which they sum everything up. In other words, her telecommuting forces those back at the office to be more focused.
The bottom line is that implementing a telecommuting/remote work policy has benefits that reach far beyond your employees’ happiness. It reduces absenteeism, increases employee retention, and saves on real estate costs. Plus, being open to remote workers expands your business’ talent pool, allowing you to find the absolute best person for a position, instead of just the most capable local candidate.
Dr. Ballard sums it up best. “The use of flexible work arrangements isn’t just an employee benefit—it’s a competitive business strategy.”