Many large corporations, and even Federal government agencies, are increasingly interested in launching telecommuting programs as a tool for reducing overhead and for employee retention. However, such programs aren’t turnkey affairs. They require infrastructure, planning and strategy in order to be successful.
This post is going to look at some of the organizational considerations for building, launching and supporting a successful remote work program. While some of these points may seem obvious for the seasoned web workers in our audience, they do need to be factored into the overall corporate decision-making process when implementing an employee telecommuting program.
Selecting Employee Candidates. While some large corporations, like IBM, have full-blown remote working plans for employees, there are plenty of other companies with programs that allow workers to telecommute a couple of days a week. Choosing employee candidates for such a program can be challenging, because the employee’s job and performance have to be taken into account. People in occupations such as sales, marketing and knowledge workers (like writers and programmers) are ideal candidates for remote work on a full-time or part-time basis, but companies need to ensure they only select proven performers. Choosing the right employee candidates could be a post in itself, but is often the first question large organizations take into consideration when the issue of telecommuting arises.
Appointing a Telecommuting Plan Project Manager. Companies taking the first steps into a telecommuting plan need to appoint a project manager, and treat the plan just like any other important project or corporate initiative. This project manager’s role should include:
- Being the central point of contact for the program, including being an interface for telecommuters and their managers.
- Being the escalation point for any telecommuting program issues, including managerial, technical and communications problems.
- Evangelizing the value of telecommuting for the corporation and its productivity.
Hardware, Software and Security. There are two camps when it comes to providing the required equipment for telecommuting. In the first camp, the employer provides all of the hardware and software for the telecommuting employee. The second camp relies on the employee’s own gear, with minimal investment from the employer. At the very least, employees using their own equipment need to be outfitted with the applications they will need to do their work (such as Microsoft Office) and company-approved security software.
Remote Access. Establishing a corporate telecommuting plan is the ideal time to revisit the existing firewall and VPN provisions and ask the following questions:
- Does the corporate firewall and VPN have sufficient capacity to accommodate all of the telecommuters in the program?
- Management of operating system and software patches and updates for remote users is another remote access requirement. Is the infrastructure in place to push the patches and updates to them remotely? Alternatively, will the telecommuters manage the updates on their own?
Communications Strategy. Telecommuting workers may lack the face-to-face communications opportunities of working down the hallway from their coworkers but have a bevy of tools available to keep them in contact with their colleagues, company clients, and partners:
- Corporate Instant Messaging (IM) services, like Microsoft Office Communicator, can provide secure IM communications and “presence” (showing when a user is available to communicate).
- Commercial IM clients like AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger have less security but still enable “presence” and can be useful to companies who have yet to implement a secure corporate IM solution.
- Many of today’s current-generation laptops include video cameras, which can be paired with an IM client or Skype to give telecommuting staff video conferencing capability, either one-on-one, or in small groups.
- Company meetings can take on a new dynamic when telecommuting employees are involved, so companies should check out Web conferencing solutions. WebWorkerDaily has covered a number of such solutions, including present.io and Tinychat. Adobe Acrobat Connect is another economical web conferencing solution.
- Companies should consider loaning or subsidizing BlackBerrys, or other smart phones, to telecommuting employees.
Training. Corporations should expect certain training requirements from their telecommuters. Some typical requirements are:
- Basic hardware/software troubleshooting.
- Basic home network/Internet connectivity troubleshooting.
- PC Security, including anti-virus, firewall, VPN, anti-spyware and anti-malware tools.
- New processes developed for the telecommuting workers.
Revisit Paper-Driven Processes. Many companies are rife with paper-driven processes like Paid Time Off (PTO) requests and expense reports. These processes can be problematic for remote workers, so should be replaced with online equivalents. Here are some examples of ways to retool such processes:
- Use electronic forms software like Microsoft InfoPath, Formatta eForms Manager, or Adobe Acrobat to put corporate forms online and make them available to remote workers. The capability to sign forms electronically is also necessary.
- Look to Microsoft Word’s track changes and commenting tools to make document reviews electronic.
- Consider Adobe Acrobat for online document reviews and collaboration.
Online Collaboration. With the advances in online office and collaboration tools, companies may want to revisit their software choices for telecommuting workers:
- Google Apps Premier Edition can be a potential collaboration solution for remote workers, if the organization is looking towards the cloud for online collaboration.
- SharePoint may already be in place in the organization. The IT group should test and ensure ready access to the SharePoint server via VPN.
While working remotely may seem like old hat to many of us, there is a lot that goes into rolling out a telecommuting program, particularly in larger organizations. It requires the support of management, IT staff and the prospective telecommuters themselves.
Have you implemented a telecommuting program in your organization? What challenges did you face?
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