Networking

Are your staff members ready for telecommuting?

Your senior developer is moving out of town. Is telecommuting the answer to help you retain a valuable staff member? Learn about new techniques that will help you determine who should work from home.


Abraham Lloyd is a senior developer for onProject.com, an application service provider (ASP) that specializes in Web-based project management and business communication technology. He lives in Orlando, FL, and telecommutes to the home office in Morristown, NJ.

The arrangement has been working successfully for both Lloyd and the company for over a year. When the job was first offered to him, it involved a move back to New Jersey even though Lloyd had recently moved to Florida. Instead of relocating, telecommuting allowed Lloyd to stay in the sunshine state.

What makes this arrangement work? The ability to deal with distractions, Lloyd said. “The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone is to be disciplined and design a work routine that helps you be productive with your time.”

But as a manager, how can you ensure that your telecommuters will have that kind of discipline? Most experts agree that managers will increase the success rate of a telecommuting program if they develop selection criteria to determine which staff members are best suited for working at home. In this article, we’ll describe the attributes that a good telecommuter must have to be a success.

“The same attributes that make a good office-working candidate also make a good [telecommuter],” said Robert Moskowitz, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Telecommuting Association. “Those attributes include loyalty, professionalism, good work-related skills and knowledge, self-discipline, ability to communicate, and goal orientation.”

Finding a good candidate
A manager’s responsibility to select which employees should be allowed to telecommute can be a challenging task. Many experts recommend that you try to apply objective standards to the selection process.

“Picking a person just because you like them is usually the quickest way for things to backfire,” said Catherine Roseberry, author of a Canada-based telecommuting guide for the online portal About.com.

If you’re unclear about which staff members to select for a telecommuting program, you don’t have to leave that decision to your instincts.

Austin, TX-based T Manage Inc. evaluates potential candidates with survey-based software called TeleProfiler. Based on responses to specific questions, TeleProfiler measures an employee’s ability to work independently based on certain characteristics, skills, and relationships.

“The challenge is to create tools and guidelines that will help select a potentially successful teleworker by their work styles, job description, and personality,” said Christine Heilig of T Manage Inc. Part of the criteria should also identify personalities and job types that may not be suitable to this arrangement, she added.

Heilig suggested that workers who will likely succeed while telecommuting are typically:
  • Self-disciplined and able to work independently with a limited need for feedback, but able to ask for it if necessary
  • Proven performers with strong past job reviews and success in their current positions
  • Trusted by their supervisors
  • Highly organized and proficient at time management
  • Strong in terms of their oral and written communications skills
  • Strong decision makers with problem-solving skills

Heilig said the teleworker's supervisor must also meet a list of criteria. Telecommuting supervisors must:
  • Possess above-average organizational, planning, and coaching skills
  • Manage by work produced and not hours worked
  • Demonstrate good communication skills (both electronic and face-to-face)
  • Maintain the ability to establish and evaluate well defined measurable objectives and goals
  • Provide timely and constructive feedback
  • Build a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the teleworker

Telecommuting: The slow track to advancement?
An important concern to discuss with employees who want to telecommute is the impact on the employee’s career. Some career experts warn that telecommuting can be harmful to your future advancement.

"If you're on a fast track and hell-bent on moving into middle management or senior level ranks, the best place to be is at the company's home office where you can be seen and heard five days a week, eight hours a day," said Jack Nehiley, Senior Vice President of Management Recruiters International, The Boston Group, a Boston-based executive search firm specializing in technology.

"Companies have and always will want team players who can be a part of the daily functioning of a company."

According to Gartner, a business technology advisor based in Stamford, CT, through 2004, it's estimated that about 20 percent of employees who volunteer for telecommuting will want to re-enter a typical office environment within six months of beginning participation in the program.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about telecommuting," said Eileen Keyes, assistant vice president and business manager of the Alternative Work Arrangement Program at Merrill Lynch. "Uppermost, it is not a substitute for child care or elder care, but is simply another way of working. It means creating an environment within your home that allows you to do your job." Keyes stressed the importance of creating what she calls a "dedicated work space."

Even though Abraham Lloyd’s job with onProject.com is successful, he agrees that telecommuting is not for everyone. “Think about this decision long term before you commit to it. I have found that people are usually comfortable with telecommuting for weeks at a time. If you are planning to do this for extended periods, make sure that you have the tools necessary to be productive.”
Do you have specific guidelines in place that help determine who is allowed to work from home? Share your advice with others by posting a comment or sending us a letter.

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