Advanced technology has led to an increase in the number of employees who work outside of traditional office settings. For the employee, telecommuting or working off-site eliminates the stress, time and costs associated with commuting. Additionally, telecommuting provides flexibility in hours and dress. For the employer, it's cheaper to pay for the technology needed at home, some or all of which may already be owned by the employee, than it is to provide full-time office space.
But for managers responsible for such workers' performance, telecommuters present a number of challenges. "Many managers don't trust what they don't see," says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "They have not been trained on how to monitor and guide those at home or how to increase or create innovative communication techniques to satisfy telecommuters and themselves."
These tips from managers will help you effectively supervise those whose workday happens outside the office:
Communication is key, says Kyle Krzmarzick, area manager for CDI, a staffing firm that specializes in engineering and information technology.
"Regularly scheduled conference calls or videoconferencing is a must," he says. "Goal setting and follow-up on action items is a good way to get in the loop with people you manage remotely. [You can have] quick status meetings where action items are delivered, then a follow-up meeting to close the loop."
Companies are increasingly measuring employee performance and activity, says Krzmarzick. For example, salespeople are increasingly responsible for tracking client calls, meetings, pending deals, etc., in some type of sales force automation software. Regardless of where the person sits geographically, the manager is able to keep up on what's happening now, what has happened already and what might happen.
"If true coaching is needed, then I'd recommend working face to face," says Krzmarzick. "That piece of employee interaction can't be replaced by a phone."
Tips for Telecommuting Success
Mary Kay DuChene, life coach with SuperiorTrek Coaching, says that in today's increasingly competitive job market, telecommuting is a perk employees want, yet many managers aren't jumping on the bandwagon. She says these tips can make such an arrangement successful:
- Pay for performance, not hours worked. If you and your department agree on the tasks, create measurable goals and are on the same page about the quality or other expectations of the work, then don't worry about whether the employee is putting in 40 hours. You'll be rewarding him for completing the agreed-upon tasks regardless of the number of hours it took. "A telecommuting employee can often get the same amount of work done in less time than office workers, because there's less chitchat at the watercooler," says DuChene.
- Many telecommuters like to work early-morning hours (perhaps before the kids get up) or late into the evening, but they still need to be reachable during normal work hours. Set up a phone or email policy so the employee can be contacted if necessary, even if he may not be on the job at that time.
- Be sure that on-site employees know they can contact the telecommuters as readily as you can. Make sure they feel like Joe Telecommuter is as accessible as if he were down the hall.
- Have those who work at home full-time come into the office periodically. Team building and rapport can happen regardless of face time, but there's no substitute for occasional in-person interaction.
If employees request an off-site or telecommute working arrangement and you have concerns, agree on a trial period, such as three months, says DuChene. After the trial period ends, you can both assess how the situation is working.
Once managers can trust off-site workers to get results, they often see the benefits of telecommuting, says John Coffey, job and career transition coach with Winning Careers. "With the technology of today, there are many ways for managers to communicate with telecommuting employees," he says.