Making Telecommuting and Flex Time Work

For many employees, flexible scheduling isn’t just a nice option to have. It’s a must-have, a benefit that can make a job worth taking — and keeping.

As a result, more businesses are offering the option, and many are finding that there are advantages in telecommuting. The practice can reduce absenteeism, as bad weather or a mild cold won’t keep an employee from working from a home office. Flexible scheduling often increases job satisfaction, which in turn increases retention and productivity. On the practical side, allowing telecommuting can help an organization cut costs on office space and utilities. It can also give businesses the opportunity to hire talented people who live outside their immediate geographic area.

But there are some challenges involved in setting up a telecommuting program. If not handled right, flexible scheduling can lead to miscommunication, resentment and decreased productivity from on- and offsite workers. Here are a few tips for making flexible working arrangements more successful:

Define clear rules for telecommuting

A lack of guidelines for remote working arrangements can lead to miscommunication and claims of favoritism. So before  any employee is allowed to start on a flexible schedule, draw up a company-wide telecommuting policy. First and foremost, the document should define which positions will be eligible for telecommuting and how many days per week those employees will be allowed to work offsite. To create those guidelines, consider which roles are best suited to independent work. In other words, which jobs can be performed remotely with little disruption to existing standards and deadlines. 

The rules should also consider how much tenure a worker will need before being allowed to work from home; it’s usually smart to have a new employee work onsite for at least six months before allowing telecommuting, in order to learn the company’s procedures and culture. Lawyers should also be consulted to make sure the policy properly addresses responsibility for any company equipment used offsite, as well as workers’ compensation and state overtime laws.

Make sure telecommuters have a proper workspace and tools

These days, remote workers don’t need much more than a work-issued laptop, Internet access, a phone with voicemail and a quiet, distraction-free space at home. Make sure the less-obvious things are addressed. For example, telecommuters will likely need access to shared files; make sure remote access is offered with a VPN, or a cloud-based system that employees working offsite can access. Also, if a remote employee will be handling sensitive files and materials, make sure there are adequate security controls on the computer and file cabinets at home.

Decide how you will communicate

It’s crucial to be in regular contact with offsite workers so they clearly understand what they need to do, and by when. Set up routine phone calls or weekly onsite meetings to go over a telecommuter’s schedule and work goals, and to decide how and when check ins with the  supervisor will occur.

In addition, use tools like Skype and FaceTime to bring remote workers into important meetings. And always invite telecommuters to office parties and other celebratory occasions, so that they know they’re still an important part of the team.

Tread carefully

When some employees telecommute and others don’t, the ones still onsite can feel — rightly or wrongly — left out of the party. Some may become disgruntled if they would rather work from home but don’t meet the qualifications. Reduce the possibility of resentment by closely following the telecommuting guidelines; in other words, don’t allow an employee to work offsite if the job doesn’t fall under the right category, even if she’s one of your best workers.

Also, consider rethinking how productivity is measured, and apply the rules equally to all employees. If, for example, offsite workers are being guaged on tasks completed or leads generated rather than hours worked, do the same for on-site employees.

A strong telecommuting program can make a firm stand out with top job candidates these days, who often look for flex time options when they’re considering employment offers. Even better, it can keep the best employees satisfied and more likely to stay onboard when other firms come calling. That alone is reason enough to establish a good flexible scheduling option.

Tama Emery is a Regional Vice President at Robert Half.