If your business is still among those wondering if you should allow telecommuting by your workers, you might want to start thinking more about when you will do it. And, more to the point, how soon you can.
Telecommuting and other remote work arrangements are already the norm at some companies. In a recent Robert Half survey of senior managers, more than half of respondents (56%) said their organization has expanded remote work opportunities for employees in the past three years.
And as Robert Half’s report, Jobs and AI Anxiety, explains, we can expect to see the emergence of robust new communication and collaboration technology, including artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools, making it even easier for employees to work from home — or anywhere — seamlessly and productively.
Keep in mind this isn’t a trend that will unfold in the far-off future, but over the next five to 10 years, our report suggests. Internet connectivity, mobility and collaborative applications already support remote work quite effectively today. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for most employers to use the “our technology at the office works better” argument with would-be telecommuters today — so just imagine the challenge tomorrow.
You’ll likely find many of your employees, especially those with long commutes, are ready for your business to give the green light to telecommuting. The ability to work from home can have a positive impact on their work-life balance. Also, it’s a good bet that job candidates will continue asking whether your firm has a telecommuting policy.
So, from both a retention and recruiting perspective, telecommuting programs make good business sense. Right now, they can provide businesses with a competitive advantage. But tomorrow, as the Jobs and AI Anxiety report suggests, telecommuting programs will likely be a business necessity for many employers.
It’s important to get your telecommuting policy right from the start. Doing so requires careful planning and implementation. Consider these six tips for creating effective telecommuting programs:
1. Contact your legal experts
Before you begin offering employees the chance to work from home, make sure your telecommuting program won’t become a legal minefield.
Legal counsel should review any telecommuting programs to make sure the company stays in compliance with employment laws. Issues to consider include complications with workers’ compensation matters and state overtime regulations, as well as the matter of individual responsibility for company property used off-site.
2. Invite managers to share their input
While general approval of a telecommuting plan for your company must come from business owners or upper management, individual supervisors should be invited to play a role in designing the specifics.
Managers know which job functions are most suitable for telecommuting, and therefore, are in the best position to customize the program for their teams. Questions they might consider when evaluating roles include: Is this position really suited to independent work? Does the job require a lot of face time that videoconferencing alone can’t support effectively? And what impact, if any, would there be on our teamwork, and even our organizational culture, if several employees telecommuted regularly?
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3. Choose the right tech tools
At the heart of successful telecommuting programs — not to mention the growing gig economy — you’ll find workers using the latest technology tools to their advantage.
Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are some of the platforms that telecommuters can use to keep in touch throughout the day. And file-hosting services like Dropbox, Google Drive or an in-house system can support their collaboration and information sharing in real time.
Also, as an employer, try to stay on top of emerging tools and technologies that can help your whole team work better, no matter where they’re located. As explained in our Jobs and AI Anxiety report, it’s never a good idea to sit back and wait for change to happen. Managers should be taking steps now to better understand how technology is likely to transform their workplace.
So, for example, you may want to closely track the rise of immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) in the workplace. Even people who won’t depend on them for core job functions will still need to be comfortable using these technologies.
4. Keep things cohesive
Make sure to help telecommuters and other remote employees feel like they’re part of the team. Set a policy to bring telecommuting staff into key meetings. Recommend that remote team members come into the office periodically. And make an extra effort to keep telecommuters in the loop on company and department news, especially if they spend a significant amount of time working off-site.
Also, bringing your whole staff together at one location on occasion can help to build camaraderie and team spirit. If that’s not possible, try scheduling at least one big videoconference on a quarterly basis using a group-friendly platform like Zoom.
5. Don’t micromanage
Managing telecommuters can be tricky. Telecommuting employees need to feel confident that their manager believes they will work as hard as they would in a regular office, including keeping similar hours and maintaining productivity.
If you’re unnecessarily checking in several times a day with remote workers just to “see how things are going,” those employees may feel like you don’t trust them.
6. Be fair to on-site employees
Another key to successful telecommuting programs is making sure that those who work on-site are treated equitably. It can feel like a bum deal to be the employee who’s left to handle problems that can’t be performed remotely by telecommuting coworkers. Remember that it’s not the job of those who work at the office to cover for those who don’t.
When it comes to quality and deliverables, there should be no difference between the work an employee produces at your office or while they’re telecommuting. So, set equal standards for on-site and off-site professionals in areas such as client service, office hours, and response times for emails and phone calls. You also might want to set “core hours” when all employees are required to be accessible.
A final tip for success: Be sure to update your telecommuting policy periodically. Over time, as technology and workplace practices continue to evolve, you may find that additional groups of employees can be offered this work option or that your guidelines need modification. Given the rapid pace of change today, that could happen a lot sooner than you expect — so make sure you, your teams and your business are ready to adapt.