Connecting The Modern Work Force: Managing Today's Telecommuters

Gabe Duverge

By: Gabe Duverge - Copywriter, Grace College and Theological Seminary

Category: Human Resources

A recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management found 38 percent of employers in the United States allow some of their workers to work from home on a regular basis, up from 23 percent in 2008. This 15 percent increase demonstrates just how quickly telecommuting is taking hold in the work place.

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Benefits and Costs of Telecommuting

The primary concern for companies when considering telecommuting policies are what the costs and benefits could be. Although high-profile companies like Yahoo are ending the practice in their organization all together, there are still plenty of companies that have found success in remote management. Here are some of the key benefits of telecommuting from employer statistics group Global Workplace Analysis:
Improved employee satisfaction: Two-thirds of people want to work from home and 36 percent would choose it over a pay raise.

Reduced Attrition: Forty-six percent of companies that allow telework report losing fewer employees.

Reduces unscheduled absences: Telework programs report a 63 percent reduction in costly unscheduled absences.

Increases productivity: Over two-thirds of companies say telecommuting increased productivity among workers.

Saves employers money: Companies like IBM, Nortel and Dow Chemical Co. saved millions on real estate costs by allowing widespread telecommuting.

The benefits to telecommuting are exciting and potentially huge money savers, but there are some potential obstacles to overcome:

It's not for everyone: Some employees need the social interaction that an office can give.

Security issues: With even more data and information being transferred digitally, companies could be open to breaches.

IT infrastructure changes: New systems, software and data might be required to allow for efficient telecommuting.

Difficulty collaborating: Some managers may feel that distance inhibits collaboration.
As the trend grows, employers will take this information and determine whether telecommuting is a policy they want to adopt. But the scope and depth of these programs will depend on the employees and the employer.

How Companies Implement Telecommuting

The broad spectrum of statistics paints a picture of how the entire workforce is being affected by telecommuting. However, the stories of individual companies provide deeper understanding of how exactly telecommuting can help a company.

IBM

Computing giant IBM boasts that it was "one of the first global companies to pioneer programs to reduce employee commuting." Since starting the first iteration of its program in 1995, the company has saved at least $100 million annually in just real estate costs. IBM's embrace of telecommuting has also saved them money in energy consumption, training and other capital assets.

IBM also promotes its telecommuting policy as an opportunity to reduce environmental impact. Not only is IBM cutting its energy use with reduced real estate, it is also reducing emissions from employees and increasing productivity. Without the commute, employees are able to spend less time on the road and more time working. Helping both themselves and their surroundings. IBM reports that the program has greatly improved morale and the work-life balance in their employee's lives.

Cisco

Networking equipment corporation Cisco uses many of its products and services in-house to create a sophisticated telecommuting program. Products like Cisco Virtual Office, Cisco OfficeExtend and Cisco WebEx are all used by employees to achieve efficiency and productivity no matter where they are working. These products that are driving the telecommuting trend globally are helping Cisco save millions.

In 2009, Cisco completed its most in-depth study of the telecommuter workforce and found significant results. The company found that most respondents experienced a significant increase in work-life flexibility, productivity and overall satisfaction with their jobs. Cisco estimated that they are saving $277 million annually by allowing employees to telecommute.

Tips for Telecommuting

When done right, telecommuting can show marked gains in productivity and employee satisfaction. But there are challenges in telecommuting. Thoughtful planning, however, can help make the process work smoothly.

Communication remains key: Remaining in contact with your team is the most important part of your work. Software like group messaging, skype, and email are your best friends.

Use a project management system: Tools like Basecamp and Teamwork allow you to breakdown and assign tasks to workers or teams. By keeping a structured path to a larger goal, everyone can make sense of what they need to contribute.

Screen sharing: When you're stuck at a juncture, screen sharing can help a co-worker learn something new or run through a report. Some tools are even free to use.

Create a regular review system: To keep up the quality of work, allow others to review it regularly. It prevents easy mistakes from happening and also increases communications between employees.

Track hours and work output: Measuring productivity ensures that you and others are completing tasks. Try using a timesheet to track what work you complete and how long it takes.

The Future of Telecommuting

Despite some business leaders still weighing the overall effectiveness of telecommuting, the benefits of the practice are undeniable and are here to stay. As more companies embrace it, more employees will find it a beneficial alternative to traditional methods of work. While a future of total offsite workforces is unlikely to happen any time soon, expect to see more and more companies add telecommuting policies in the near future. With the increasing prevalence of teams being located across locations, time zones and even continents, professionals will have to develop the tools and techniques needed to make telecommuting successful and productive. The next generation of professionals will have to develop working skills for both onsite and offsite environments.

Gabe Duverge is a copywriter for Grace College & Theological Seminary.

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