Have you ever fantasized about telecommuting? Imagine it… Email from your laptop on the beach… Conference calls in your pajamas… Writing code all night in the south of France, to be able to sightsee during the day… Of course you have.
Now, let’s ask another question: Have you ever fantasized about managing a group of telecommuters? Barking dogs in the background… Sleep-choked voices on early morning calls… Suspicious absences when deadlines are looming… No replies to your email… No, of course you haven’t.
While nearly everyone has dreamt of telecommuting, almost no one relishes the idea of managing remote workers. Not long after Melissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo!, she banned the practice. Ford, by trying to reduce remote management issues, became party to a lawsuit when a worker claimed that a medical condition requires her to telecommute.
“Telecommuting” is a modern management problem. Sure, there are a few employees who start out with the intention of cheating the system. But most just want to be able to do their work with a little bit of freedom from dress codes and long drives to work. In truth, most of the issues with telecommuting arise because roles and outcomes are not clearly defined at the outset.
Want to establish telecommuting at your company? Here are some ideas for how to create an enterprise-wide program for telecommuting success:
- Create a company-wide policy in telecommuting. Identify who is eligible to telecommute, difference in performance evaluations, when telecommuters may be required to come to the office, when/if to require management approval, etc.
- Develop support material for managers. Having telecommuters on your staff requires some different skill sets. Make sure that your company’s managers are ready by providing clear, concise tools and techniques to manage a remote workforce.
- Clarify how the telecommuting role differs from in-person roles (if it does). Telecommuters may be subject to more frequent or more formal reviews of deliverables, for example, to redirect efforts early, if needed. They have a need for increased – and more formal – communication, since they aren’t present to catch the hallway chatter.
- Create a standard framework for assessing telecommuting performance. Almost every company has a system for evaluating performance on a quarterly or annual basis. Telecommuters might need assessments on a more frequent basis to get and give feedback on metrics and quality. Monthly assessments work well for all telecommuters; weekly reviews are a good idea for employees who are new to telecommuting, or struggling with new responsibilities or metrics.
Are you a manager of telecommuters? Here are some ideas for how to make it a success for your team:
- Lay out the minimum numbers of hours expected per week or month. One benefit to telecommuters is the ability to time-shift their work. That’s acceptable in many work cultures, but you may want to clearly state the expected number of work hours per week.
- Identify clear metrics for the work and assess success on regular intervals. Most workers can benefit by having clear metrics for what they need to accomplish, but for telecommuters, clear metrics are critical. Identify how much work they need to perform, what quality looks like, and when the work is due. Then, plan to assess accomplishments on a regular basis to make adjustments as needed.
- Assign and track deadlines and hold workers accountable. Surprisingly, deadlines are frequently fluid in many office environments. They may be adjusted on the fly during the workday to meet changing conditions. Update telecommuters frequently on any changes to deadlines, and develop a routine of holding them accountable for on-time delivery.
- Establish rules for worker availability. For example, do you expect them to answer the phone immediately during business hours, or is it acceptable to return calls within a few hours? Usually, the nature of the work determines the need for availability, but be sure to have the discussion early to make sure expectations are clear.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/etherworks/5074390630/