Get tough on telecommuting: 6 questions to ask before you say yes
Proceed cautiously - teleworking can change office dynamics in ways you hadn't anticipated.
By Tam Harbert | Computerworld US | Published: 01:58, 15 September 2008
1. Is full-time telecommuting a smart decision?
Some IT jobs will never be candidates for telework. Either the employee is physically required on-site - to repair client hardware, for example - or the job requires a lot of communication, interaction and collaboration with others, such as managing relationships between IT and business units.
Other times, the situation is less clear. The work can be performed remotely, but should it be?
Telework is best for those with task-oriented jobs and for people who need little face-to-face communication, says Gartner analyst Scott Morrison. "Can they get through a day's work without leaving their desk?" he asks. "Then they can do their job remotely."
But just because they can doesn't mean they necessarily should. The most successful telework arrangements are those that still bring the worker into the office at least some of the time.
Dennis Cromwell, associate VP for enterprise infrastructure at Indiana University, lets 10 to 12 of his 75 employees telecommute - but not every day. They are mostly systems and database administrators who work alone on the computer and communicate chiefly by phone and email. The arrangement has worked well, so well that Cromwell has cut the number of offices that one of his teams requires from six to two.
Still, he won't allow anyone to telework permanently, except in rare circumstances, because he wants to keep informal communications flowing. "That's the kind of relationship I think we'll see more and more of," says Cromwell. "Not somebody telecommuting 100 percent of the time, but rather creating situations where someone will work from home one or two days a week."
2. How will you define and measure performance?
Most experienced managers stress that you must establish "well-defined deliverables" for teleworkers, and then judge performance accordingly.
On the face of it, that approach seems simple enough. For task-oriented jobs, it's easy to measure performance in terms of output. For an IT support person, for example, you might track how many tickets he handled per day and whether problems were successfully solved.
But such an approach implies that it doesn't matter how much or little time it takes to do the job. And that raises a sometimes thorny question: Are you paying employees for their output, their time, or both? Some people work faster or more efficiently than others, especially when working from home. If an employee hits his output working only four hours a day, is that a win-win situation or poor use of a company's business asset?
"People say they manage by results, but they also like to know whether the person is only active a few hours a day," says Eric Spiegel, CEO and co-founder of software start-up XTS. In a previous job as an IT manager, Spiegel had bad experiences allowing staff to telework. Members of his team were sometimes unavailable during work hours, and he had trouble scheduling meetings.
To avoid such problems, he says, you should decide upfront whether meeting deliverables is enough, or whether you will require employees to be at their phone and computer at certain times and for a certain number of hours.