Working from Home – The Manager

Rona Carr

Rona Carr

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Monica is a manager with an excellent record of managing her customer service representatives, effectively managing costs and maintaining morale. Below she talks about the challenges of administering employees who want to work from home.

Four years ago, our company conducted a survey of our employees to find out what they felt we could do better. It was very interesting to read the results. All the managers met with leadership to find out which of the hundreds of suggestions were doable. The idea that came up most often was the desire to work from home. It wasn’t an option for most of the divisions of our business, but we agreed that we should sponsor a pilot program, and my area seemed like a good place to start.

(See CultureStrategyFit to learn more about the advantages of employee surveys)

The pilot program team involved every part of the business, from the human resources and benefits departments, to the Risk Management VP, lawyers from the legal department, the systems and technology folks, labor relations, and the business and operations managers.

The prevailing consideration that shaped the policies and procedures the team developed, was that to work from home was a direct positive influence on the quality of an employee’s work-life, could be used to motivate, reduce absenteeism, tardiness, and commuting time, enable greater access to a geographically diverse labor pool, retain employees when consolidating facilities, more easily include disabled who might have difficulties with the traditional office environment, increase overall productivity. In other words, it could be a major win-win for all involved.

(For sample telecommuting policies & procedures, go to: )

BUT there are concerns that demand diligent and prudent risk management.

* Administering telecommuters can be demanding, requiring clearly defined reporting and documentation of policies and procedures, such as signed agreements from non-exempt employees about when and who will authorize over-time hours, monitoring the actual work being done (e.g., implementing a clocking-in process either on-line or via the telephone, etc.), how, when and frequency of home inspection of the security of equipment and the employee, and the requisite written permission forms for such inspections, to name just a few.
* Developing, maintaining and delivering formalized communications programs are critical to conveying the policies and procedures related to telecommuting, including which positions qualify, related health & safety policies and procedures and their application, and liability requirements for both employers and employees.
* Supervising virtual team members is complicated and difficult, and not having the ‘face-time’ often makes communication very impersonal
* Determining how and when an injury will be investigated requires sensitivity and diplomacy. Especially when there are often no witnesses to the on-the-job injury that occurs at home.
* Privacy issues for the organization and employee are complex and represent high risk. Not only how and when the physical security of equipment and employees will be monitored, but trade secrets and confidential information, and the monitoring of employee access and tracking of where they go on-line and via telephone, require prudent oversight, frequent, and strict compliance with nondisclosure and/or confidentiality agreements.
* There can be communication issues with employees, who sometimes feel ‘out-of-the-loop’ when it comes to opportunities for special assignments, transfers and promotions.

Telecommuting at its worst is an imperfect tool. It puts an unreasonable amount of responsibility on the individual, to find ways to communicate and engage with managers and colleagues, and not become alienated. Managers have the burden of effectively managing the risk involved with employees working from home, an environment they have no control over, and bridging the distance, personalizing communications, to make everyone feel like they’re a part of the team.

(See Managing Telecommuters for suggestions about effectively managing employees who telecommute)

Making telecommuting a viable and attractive option for both parties means a mutual commitment to maintaining open and frequent communications, and a collaborative approach to the development and implementation of the policies and procedures used in its administration, and how they will be applied. Driven by technology the world has become smaller and its boundaries less significant and, the option of working in space not unimaginable. Working virtually is no longer the future it is the way we work.

See the following articles on the future workplace:
“The Workplace of the Future”

“Envision the Future Workplace”

“Future Workforce Future Work”

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