Is Telecommuting Right for Your Business?

Recently, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer shook up the business world with her decision to no longer permit employees to telecommute at Yahoo.  Based on media interviews, she seems to have good reasons for ending the company’s long-standing policy. But will her decision have an impact on small service companies that sometimes struggle to attract and retain talented employees?

As with every business issue, there are pros and cons to allowing employees to work from home.

On the business side, it can reduce overhead expenses associated with supplying and managing the workforce. It can also lower rent or leasing costs by requiring less square footage of office space. Numerous studies have found that employees who work remotely have fewer distractions, which leads to higher productivity. And telecommuting can boost employee morale by giving them more flexibility in regards to their work schedule.

On the employee side, working remotely can contribute to better work-life balance, a big issue for employees with young children. It cuts down on the time, expense, and frustration involved in the daily commute to work. Employees often feel less stressed working at home instead of the office. And if they get sick, it lessens the chance of spreading it to others in the office when they can work from home.

On the downside, virtual employees can sometimes feel isolated and disconnected from the team. Research shows that in-person communications is the best way to produce trust and create unified teams, especially with newer employees.  Managing a virtual worker isn’t the same as managing someone who’s in the office all day. And the fact is that some jobs require daily interaction with managers and staff, which can lead to feelings of anger and resentment from those who can’t work at home.

Clearly, not all is peaches and cream with the telecommuting option. So, how do you know if it’s a viable option for your business?

Start by asking questions like: How will telecommuting benefit our business? Will it help to lower overhead or make employees more productive?  Will it enable us to recruit and hire a better caliber of employee?

Next, identify which jobs can be effectively performed at home. Then ask: Which employees will be allowed to work from home and how often? How much time will they be required to spend in the office? How will they participate in team meetings and other group events? How will we ensure that virtual workers remain connected to the office and feel like part of the team?

Don’t overlook the IT issues. For example, what technologies will be needed for the employee to work at home? Who is responsible for buying and maintaining it? Do we have systems in place, such as Skype or Go To Meeting, that will enable virtual face-to-face contact when needed? And most important, how will we measure and manage the performance of telecommuting employees to ensure we’re getting the desired results?

Many small service companies can’t offer a lot of opportunity for career advancement. In those situations, telecommuting can offer a juicy plum that attracts talented people who would otherwise gravitate to larger companies. But before making it available, make sure it matches the needs of your business first, and then your workforce. Otherwise, telecommuting may cause more problems than it is worth.


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