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How to use telecommuting to cut costs.

As the economic downturn continues, companies are looking for new and creative ways to cut costs in order to avoid slashing workforce. We're seeing reductions in benefits and compensation packages, forced unpaid vacation time, job-sharing options and reduced work schedules being assigned.

We're also seeing extreme measures being taken to reduce real estate and associated facilities management costs in the form of consolidation and office closings. But, just because a company cuts back on space doesn't mean they have to cut back on their workforce.

An increasingly attractive option is allowing employees to work offsite – otherwise know as telecommuting, e-commuting, working at home (WAH) or becoming Nanobots (Nearly Autonomous, Not in the Office, doing Business in their Own Time Staff – a term coined by David Pauleen and Brian Harmer of the Wall Street Journal). These workers stay on the job, but forfeit their office space to permanently or semi-permanently work away from the office.

The cost benefits of telecommuting.

Now that high-speed/broadband home Internet service is widely available, setting up a home office is easier and less expensive than ever. Plus, technologies such as Blackberry devices allow employees to stay connected with colleagues and clients from virtually anywhere.

In addition to the money saved by not paying rent for these workers, being open to recruiting and hiring remote workers from other geographic areas greatly expands the talent pool and offers organizations the opportunity to find potentially more qualified – and less expensive – employees.

How does it affect productivity?

Telecommuting isn't for everyone – companies and employees alike need to recognize who is capable of working independently and who will be taking naps on their couch during work hours. However, for the right employees, telecommuting offers flexibility and fewer disruptions – two factors that greatly enhance productivity.

A good telecommuter:

  • Thrives on their driven natures and personal freedom, and is able to create a work/life balance without strict guidelines
  • Is a self-starter and a high achiever that produces strong results with a minimum amount of supervision
  • Must be technologically self-sufficient
  • Needs the personal networks, knowledge and experience to deal with problems that arise on their own

A good manager for telecommuters:

  • Enters into telecommuting arrangement without reserve
  • Does not resent the loss of direct control
  • Sets clear expectations with an final due date
  • Has a trusting relationship with e-commuter
  • Must posses a clear understanding of who would and who would not make a good candidate for e-commuting

Managers who are still concerned that time spent out of the office is unproductive should consider a performance-based pay system. This way telecommuters can be evaluated – and compensated – based on what they do rather than where they do it which gives them an incentive to be productive.

Telecommuting as a retention tool.

Not only can telecommuting save the company a considerable amount of money on things like utilities and maintenance, it can also be used as an incentive or retention tool, especially when bonuses are not available. More and more workers are seeking flexible schedules to achieve a greater work/life balance, and offering the option of telecommuting can go a long way in boosting employee satisfaction. However, it is important for managers to enter into a telecommuting arrangement without uncertainty. When employees sense that their employer is reluctantly allowing them to telecommute, it can have an adverse impact on morale. No employee wants to feel that their manager is wary of their work ethic or time-management skills.

In addition, it is important to make sure your telecommuters feel like they are still part of your team. Communicate with them frequently (without being overbearing) – keep them in the loop on important work issues, but also take the time to check in with them on a personal level. Ask them to be in the office for weekly or quarterly staff meetings to help them stay connected and offer their input. If face-to-face meetings are difficult to arrange, establish a time to speak with them over the phone once or twice a week.

Making telecommuting work.

In addition to having the right work ethic, successful telecommuters must have the right resources. To help telecommuters be as accessible as office workers, make sure they have the following tools:

  • A high-speed/broadband Internet connection
  • VPN access to your network that works with multiple operating systems
  • A phone system that allows for remote access to voice mail voice-mail, call forwarding and easy teleconferencing
  • An instant-messaging (IM) system that allows your team to stay connected from any location
  • Easily accessible and manageable project-tracking software

Perhaps the most important way to ensure a successful telecommuting arrangement is to clearly define responsibilities and expectations for telecommuters. When you set goals for talented people and provide them with all the right resources, they'll prove they can succeed in any work environment.


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