The kerfuffle over Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting misses the point about business today. Savvy companies know that the networked economy demands anywhere, anytime information. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the majority of employees at a company are motivated, dedicated professionals committed to work together for the success of customers and the business. The question becomes: how to make telecommuting work and what’s really possible?
To find out what the experts thought, I talked with well-respected professionals, including Paul Belliveau, a seasoned HR advisor and practitioner, who helped me query some pretty smart people who participate in LinkedIn forums. This is what they told me.
Don’t lose the human element. Instant messaging misses the nuances. It’s no substitute for good old telephone or video chat where you can hear and/or see someone. Helpful technologies include live streaming video to YouTubewith playback capabilities. Some companies use instant messaging that also includes voice and video—the “water cooler” experience of the digital age that may be even more valuable. Studies show that people tend to collaborate with like-minded others, making hallway conversations result in group think. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article on CNN, Benefit of office face time a myth:
“It’s the collaboration among diverse groups of people that fosters the most creative and cutting-edge thinking. Because virtual interactions through online chats and teleconferencing make personal similarities less obvious, these may be better than hallway conversations for cultivating innovation.”
Monitor and motivate performance with feedback and rewards. After gaining agreement on performance benchmarks, one company alternated face-to-face meetings with phone calls to stay in touch with remote workers. Another company has competitions between remote workers to reach goals faster, and also provides small interim rewards and recognition.
Communicate the policies and mind your manners. Spell out how information is to be distributed including how often, in what format, and by whom. Etiquette is also huge. Crying children, barking dogs, and tactless multi-tasking, (is there anything more annoying than trying to talk over music when someone puts a call on hold to answer the doorbell?), are counter-productive. It’s also important to set response time standards but be mindful of employee boundaries. Balance between heads down time to accomplish certain tasks and availability is crucial.
Make sure employees have the right technology at home. This may sound obvious but many companies don’t consider that employees won’t get much accomplished if the corporate phone won’t connect, or they lack adequate workspace and reliable online connectivity.
Remote workers likeliest to succeed: IT support. One company found that 100% of help desk, networking, telecommunications, and applications analyst employees who worked remotely one day a week exceeded performance goals during a 12-week trial. As productivity increased on telecommuting days, employees were allowed to work remotely twice a week. Success hinged on a couple of factors: the team consists of seasoned, customer-focused, collaborative employees. And, HR and IT worked together to develop a plan with clear expectations everyone understood.
As social networking transforms the concept of work with always-on communication, arguably everyone is a teleworker. As for me, I’m still deciding if my restorative yoga instructor’s “Remote Mindful Guided Meditation” session really will help me reduce stress and increase optimism if I just dial into
the call. These days, anything’s remotely possible.