How your business can get the best from telecommuting staff
By now, it is well-established that the benefits of telecommuting to both employers and employees are many. The former can reduce overheads, staff turnover and environmental impact, and increase productivity, talent pool and company morale. The latter can save money, get healthier, improve work-life balance and attain job satisfaction.
However, if your telecommuting program is not properly planned or managed, it could lead to a lack of accountability, rise in inefficiency and loss of confidence that could paralyze your business. That is why it is imperative you put in place processes that cover the following areas, enabling you to both govern and support telecommuting staff, and, ultimately, get the best out of them.
Make sure telecommuting staff use a secure network
As a business owner, accountability and productivity are likely to be at the front of your mind when it comes to telecommuting, but do not overlook security; it is often forgotten that telecommuters will potentially be accessing sensitive data outside a secure business network.
If your telecommuting staff require access to confidential information, you will need to implement both policies and technologies that will keep that information secure. Small business insurer Hiscox’s Head of US Communications Hunter Hoffman recommends monitoring all applications and devices used by telecommuting staff, and putting safeguards against breaches and hacks in place.
“Password-protect all business devices [and] make sure that data going out from [those devices] is encrypted,” Hoffman advises. “Keep a current inventory of all devices and make sure each one has its GPS [global positioning system] tracking turned on. Additionally, install technology to remotely wipe data from any device that has been lost or stolen.”
Make sure telecommuting staff have adequate internet connections
For the majority of telecommuting staff, a fast, reliable internet connection is likely to be essential, so it is crucial that any telecommuting policy spells out what the company requirements are with regards to technology, especially connectivity. There is little to be gained by either employer or employee if telecommuting impedes productivity.
Before hiring telecommuters who will mainly work from home, or allowing existing members of staff to do so, check what bandwidth they receive from their current internet service provider (ISP). If an upgrade is necessary, your telecommuting policy should set out whether this is the responsibility of the employer or employee. If your telecommuting staff will be working over Wi-Fi, the speed and security of their wireless connection should also be assessed.
Telecommuting staff who mainly work ‘on the road’ rather than from home will rely on mobile internet, in the form of 3G and 4G, and Wi-Fi. While mobile internet speed and reliability is determined by location, your telecommuting policy should set out whether mobile internet is to be supplied by employer or employee, and also whether it is permissible for employees to work via public Wi-Fi hotspots, which may be unsecured.
You should also consider whether non-home-based telecommuting staff should be equipped with a mobile hotspot to allow them to connect multiple gadgets to the internet where there is no Wi-Fi available.
Develop relationships with telecommuting staff
“Allowing people to work from home is a perk that effectively attracts and retains top talent in a competitive market,” says modern office furniture and office space design company turnstone’s General Manager Brian Shapland. “But there are factors to consider when giving your team the green light to work outside the office, like the impact it may have on employee engagement, team connectivity and the vibrancy of your office culture.”
To get the most from telecommuting staff, it is vital that they know what is expected from them with regards to communicating with their supervisor and their co-workers. A routine for contact, as well as methods of communication, should again be set out in any telecommuting policy. The emergence of smartphones and instant messaging means telecommuting staff can be available to take part in quick discussions and collaborations no matter where they are.
For more immediate, personal communication, encourage telephone calls and video conferencing, as these can help build camaraderie between telecommuters and non-telecommuters, and tone of voice and facial expressions convey meaning that can get lost via text-based platforms. Implementing a hosted phone system, such as Primus Business Services Hosted PBX, means your home-based and travelling telecommuters will be seamlessly connected with the rest of your company via one phone system.
If possible, telecommuting staff should regularly attend physical meetings on company premises, as well as take part in company social occasions. Real-world interaction means telecommuters do not become ‘invisible’, helps them to develop a rapport with both employer and fellow employees and ensures they are involved in company culture, which will benefit all parties in terms of morale, collaboration and productivity.
Ensure regular feedback loops with telecommuting staff
Teleworking policies should also provide stipulation for ongoing feedback between employer and employee, so that both parties are continuously learning about how they are performing. This is important because digital communication channels, especially those that are text-based, provide less prompts and signals than face-to-face communication, which can create ambiguity around expectations, which in turn can lead to frustration and conflict.
Telecommuting is a loop, rather than a linear activity, so establish a way for you and your telecommuters to develop professionally together. Regular feedback and update sessions will engage telecommuting staff, giving them a voice, and allow you to track progress, troubleshoot, provide training and recognize achievements. This will go a long way in helping the relationship between you and your telecommuters blossom, as well as boosting and maintaining morale.