December 18, 2017 –

The time is finally right!  You’ve decided to take the plunge and allow telecommuting for your employees a few days a week…or perhaps full time.  If you’re smart, you’re also a bit nervous.  And that’s actually a good thing.  Being prepared makes all the difference. A lot can go wrong when you make this move, but it doesn’t have to.  Small and midsized business owners can avoid these 5 common mistakes and come out with all the pros (and none of the cons) that come with allowing employees to work remotely.  (For more on the pros and cons of telecommuting for small and midsized businesses read our blog post from last week).

Telecommuting Mistake #1: Managing by Physical Observation

For small and midsized businesses, management style is often very “hands on” by physically observing the employee while they work. Whether it’s a quick chat by their desk or observing them walking down the hall, there’s a subtle implication that the employee is productive because they are physically at the office. And the management style follows suit. However with telecommuting, “managing by physical observation” falls woefully short.  Managers must evolve to leading their team with outcome-based expectations.  It’s a transition from worrying about “did they put in 40 hours” to understanding and setting expectations of what outcomes (i.e. productivity level) the manager expects from the employee in a given time period. And then holding employees accountable to the outcome.  This is good management practice with or without a telecommuting program, but for those who have managed historically via physical observation, this is an important transition.

Telecommuting Mistake #2: Ignoring the Cultural Impact

Allowing remote work for employees will have a cultural impact on the organization. It’s important for leaders to ask themselves “What are the important elements of our culture we need to retain?” And then “How can we preserve those while people work remotely?”  This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. It can be a back-of-the napkin exercise, but take the time to think it through.  Ignoring the impact or pretending there won’t be one will lead to challenges.

One cultural “fail” is forgetting to be inclusive. Getting all of your team together in the same physical location on a regular basis can help.  Consider adding team lunches once a month or an “all hands” meeting on a quarterly basis with a social hour before the meeting starts. Creating opportunities for employees to physically engage with one another on a regular basis can make a huge difference in retaining the important elements of company culture.

Telecommuting Mistake #3: Not Creating a Formal Policy

Okay so this one isn’t a ton of fun, which is why it’s probably skipped so often.  Particularly in small or midsized businesses, where formal policies might feel like overkill.  But even a brief one-page document which outlines the guidelines the employee (and the company!) will follow will help ensure a successful telecommuting program. Telecommuting can also have legal implications for your business. For example, worker’s compensation policies may be impacted by the where the person is physically doing their job. Be sure to speak with your legal resource and insurance company about potential impacts. Some other elements to consider for your policy include:

  • Setting expectations on how the employee will be evaluated
  • Definitions of timelines for the program (is this a 6-month trial? Is it permanent?)
  • “Out” clauses for employees and employers, indicating that either side can change their mind and require/allow the employee to return to the office full time.
  • Requirements for following technology rules (more on that later)
  • Which roles are eligible (i.e. telecommuting may be an optional benefit, and one that is handled on a case-by-case basis by the leadership team)
  • Expectations around child care

Telecommuting Mistake #4: Failing to Implement Collaboration Technologies

(telecommuting is a misnomer.  It should be video commuting)

The term telecommuting is really a misnomer.  The telephone is a part of the story, but there is a vast array (literally hundreds) of technology solutions available to help make telecommuting a success.  Some key solution categories which we consider “must haves” include:

  • Video Conferencing
  • Central document storage
  • Group collaboration tools
  • Messaging tools

For video conferencing to be successful, you should plan on using it every time you would have just used the phone in the past.  Have it become the norm versus the exception.  Once everyone is used to it they will feel more and more comfortable with the medium, and it will help retain that sense of closeness and familiarity between team members.

For more insight on how to make your full team more productive, check out “Team Productivity and Collaboration.”

Telecommuting Mistake #5: Underestimating Security Requirements

Telecommuting employees require special security measures to ensure data passing from their home location to your office is secure and protected. To secure your systems, be sure employees are complying with the following guidelines:

  • Use of VPN to access company systems
  • Updated security patches, anti-virus and anti-malware software on their laptop/desktop
  • Email security installed to catch fraudulent and malicious emails
  • Web security – prevent employees from going to a particular website when using company equipment (either to prevent them visiting fraudulent websites operated by cyber criminals and/or to avoid websites which are outside of company policy)
  • Completion of security training to avoid falling victim to phishing schemes. (Read more on social engineering scams and the importance of security awareness training.)

Next Steps:

Avoiding these 5 common mistakes can go a long way to ensuring you’ll have a successful telecommuting program at your company.  You’ll take advantage of the benefits for your business including lower costs, improved employee satisfaction, and increased productivity for your team while avoiding (or at least minimizing) the downsides.

For more information on how to implement telecommuting for your small or midsized business, please Contact Us for a free evaluation and recommendation. You can also call us at (866) 407-1284.

– The AccountabilIT Team