What to Do When An Employee Asks to Telecommute


If it hasn’t already happened, it’s coming: one of your employees is going to ask you if they can telecommute. It may even happen this week, as it’s Telework Week. Many office-based jobs can now be done from anywhere with the right technology. The possibility of employees working remotely is something that is better to think about before the question comes up, rather than finding yourself grasping for an answer in the moment.

Getting Comfortable With the Idea

The first question has to be whether you feel comfortable with letting employees telecommute. The simple truth is that many employers do not, although for many of them it’s something of a gut reaction. If you’re in that group, you have to break down why you  feel that way. The biggest concern is often that if your employees aren’t in the office, you won’t be able to tell if they’re working. There are ways to resolve this issue, however:  you can sett up a way to have employees report in regularly or switch to an accomplishment-based system, rather than expecting employees to show up for a certain number of hours every day, for example.

You may also find that you have concerns about security or expense. Telecommuting arrangements will be different at every company, so the expense will vary, depending on the equipment and  software you’ll need to provide your employees with for their home computers and similar issues. There are ways to protect documents and sensitive information when you make it accessible to employees outside your office, but the levels of security vary and you’ll need to do some research to find exactly what you need.

Do a Trial Run

One of your best options as an employer is a trial run. If an employee asks to telecommute, you can always agree to give it a try and if it doesn’t work out ask the employee to return to the office at the end of the trial period. Similarly, you can put the responsibility of doing the research into what tools will be necessary onto the shoulders of the employee who wants to get out of the office. That person certainly has a reason to look for secure options that will reassure you about the process, as well as to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Telecommuting is becoming more common in organizations of every size. It makes it possible to work with the best people for your projects, no matter where they are based. It can be an opportunity to keep your team happy and it’s a privilege you may be able to provide without a lot of work or expense on your part. Even if telecommuting doesn’t wind up working for all of your team and on all of the projects you work on, it’s worth at least trying out to see when it will work and when it could be useful.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Mike McCune

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Nathan Zeldes

Sad that this is still in debate – I thought we’d solved it in the nineties! I was the one who drove Telecommuting adoption at Intel at the time, and the thorough analysis and pilot implementations we ran proved very clearly that for suitable people (which is most knowledge workers) working from home one day a week (as long as it’s the same day every week for any given person) has great benefits for the employee, for the company and for customers. And (no surprise) the telecommuters DID work. It’s not like the only reason they work is because the boss is breathing down their neck…

Simon Mackie

Thanks for the comment, Nathan. I agree, it seems odd that we still have things like “Telework Week” when the benefits are well documented, and the technology that we have now makes telecommuting far easier and more affordable than it would have been in the nineties.

“It’s not like the only reason they work is because the boss is breathing down their neck…” Sadly, I think that some bosses who still believe that this is the case.


If you are a knowledge worker you can do better work remotely than you can in the office, the office is an anachronism. I’ve been running remote teams for years and never had much of an issue, certainly no more than office workers create.
If you are interested check out my blog where I rant on the subject: http://www.bddy.net


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