Telecommuting: Should You Allow It?
Yahoo's ban on telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements has sparked an interesting debate in the workplace. Should your organization follow suit?
The issue of whether or not to allow telecommuting or work-from-home options in the workplace is hardly a new problem. In fact, organizations have been questioning whether or not to offer it and the pros and cons of such arrangements for the past few years as this flexible work practice has become more common.
Before you change your policy, here are some important considerations.
1. Telecommuting can be attractive and beneficial as a flexible work option.
Offering telecommuting or work-from-home options can help attract talent, especially employees in segments of the workforce that traditionally need or want more flexible arrangements (i.e. women, disabled workers, Millenials, etc.). Allowing telecommuting to be used as an option for the following can be advantageous.
- Balancing variable work/life responsibilities (i.e. caring for children, attending appointments, managing household responsibilities, etc.)
- Improving productivity and safety during inclement weather
- Accommodating an illness, disability, or medical condition
- Reducing commute time for employees with longer commutes
Rarely does allowing telecommuting in these situations sacrifice the benefits of working in the office, such as collaboration, interaction, and creativity.
2. Management of telecommuters needs to focus on productivity, results, and accountability.
The biggest reason that telecommuting arrangements fail is because of poor performance management. Telecommuting doesn't work if you aren't focused on making sure that employees are accomplishing their work and meeting performance standards. Make sure you set clear performance expectations.
As with any employee who works in the office, managers need to hold telecommuters accountable for high levels of performance, results, and productivity. Having regular status meetings or check-ins, and requiring updates helps ensure that work is actually getting done.
Keep in mind that mere attendance in the office doesn't necessarily mean that employees are getting work done. Attendance in the office can often mask misused time and unproductive or counterproductive work behaviors.
3. The decision to allow for telecommuting arrangements should be based on the job and individual.
Making the decision to allow for telecommuting should ultimately be based on the job's design and the individual. There are some jobs and individuals that lend themselves well to a telecommuting arrangement, while others do not.
For example, an employee that interacts with many other employees, frequently is involved in meetings, and often needs to be accessible to customers over the phone at work will probably not be a good candidate for a telecommuting arrangement.
However, an employee whose responsibilities are primarily independent, has clearly defined tasks/objectives, and does not need specific workplace equipment to do their job may be better suited for telecommuting. Similarly, telecommuting arrangements tend to work well for "field" employees who work heavily with outside clients.
Additionally, employees with the following qualities tend to have successful telecommuting arrangements:
- Dependable and reliable
- No history of disciplinary or performance issues
- Proven ability to work independently
- Self-managed - doesn't require a high level of direction or supervision
For these reasons, a best practice in creating telecommuting and other flexible work policies is to allow for case-by-case decision-making and evaluation by managers and to make sure that the option is not viewed as an entitlement or universal benefit. Not every employee will make an ideal telecommuter, but reserve the option for those that need it and will continue to be productive while using the arrangement.
Requiring a proposal or request process for telecommuting arrangements and formulating telecommuting agreements between managers and employees can be helpful in outlining hours, compensation, length of arrangements, and circumstances that may lead to termination of the arrangement.
Telecommuting may not have worked for Yahoo and may not work for your organization's culture either, but in many situations, organizations say it allows for flexibility, accommodation, and better work/life balance for employees that utilize it. You just need to make sure that you are managing telecommuting appropriately and effectively so that work is getting done, collaboration and interaction still occurs, and business results aren't comprised.