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Making Telecommuting Successful

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Making Telecommuting Successful

Telecommuting, simply defined, "includes any method for working productively while away from the traditional office" (ATA, 2008). In 2009, there were an estimated 2.9 million, full-time telecommuters in the United States and upwards of 33 million, part-time telecommuters (Meinert, 2011). The demand for telecommuting continues and some reports suggest that during this decade most workers will be mobile to some degree (TelCoa, 2011). In order to institute successful telecommuting programs, HR professionals must understand the benefits of telecommuting as well as the challenges associated with selling, implementing and evaluating these programs.

Telecommuting is a benefit that employees are increasingly demanding. Many organizations are using telecommuting as a means to attract and retain top talent (Meinert, 2011). Dice.com recently reported that, "more than one-third of technology professionals said they'd cut their salary by up to 10 percent in exchange for telecommuting full-time," (Hill, 2011). Telecommuting is a powerful tool and is being used in a variety of ways to benefit employees as well as employers. Telecommuting opportunities can help attract skilled workers, which may not be present in the local labor force. It can also be used as a means to create more balance between an employee's work and family life. It can reduce the employer's need for office space, thus saving money on physical space and the utilities associated with that space. It can be a great means to accommodate employees with disabilities or special needs, and certainly can be beneficial to business continuity during disasters and emergencies. Telecommuting can also have a positive environmental impact by reducing traffic pollution (Kirk & Belovics, 2006; Meinert, 2011; TelCoa, 2010).

Telecommuting clearly benefits employees as well as organizations, but selling the concept of remote work can be difficult. With change always comes some resistance. Some managers may be resistant to allowing employees to work out-of-site. It is easier to propose a telecommuting policy to reluctant mangers, by clearly defining all aspects of telecommuting including: management and communication techniques, performance standards and goals, and safety concerns. Managers may struggle to determine how to effectively monitor a telecommuter's productivity, and employees may find it difficult to maintain manager's trust when working outside of the office. Training programs to address these issues should be considered when selling the program (Kirk & Belovics, 2006). Without strong support from management, HR professionals will find it difficult to sell telecommuting as a new policy.

Organizations have also begun to question whether or not telecommuting increases productivity since much of the research data has been collected from self-reports, which can be unreliable. Butler, Aasheim, & Williams (2007) tested the theory of increased productivity by using actual measures from longitudinal data. Their research determined that average productivity rose by 154% in telecommuters and that their productivity increase was sustainable over time. Presenting reliable research linking increased productivity to telecommuting will strengthen the argument in favor of the policy.

Additionally, it is important to understand that the cost savings associated with telecommuting are primarily linked with full-time telecommuters. In order to save money on office space, the need for space must first be reduced. For instance, Sun Microsystems reported that it saved about $255 million by eliminating 7,700 cubicles deserted by telecommuters between 2005 and 2006 (Pearce, 2009). Part-time telecommuters who still work in the office are not saving much by way of office space, materials, and utilities. Jack Phillips, chairman of the ROI institute contends, "You can really save tons of money [with telecommuting], but you've got to have the real estate savings" (Meinert, 2011).

Implementing a telecommuting program comes with it's own set of challenges. Not all work can be completed remotely and not all employees will be able to successfully work remotely. Research shows that telecommuting is most successful when employees are screened, evaluated, and trained prior to approval for telecommuting (ATA, 2008). Research also links self-efficacy with successful telecommuters. Employees who are independent, motivated, and able to make the best use of their time without close supervision often perform well when introduced to remote working conditions (Khaifa & Davidson, 2000; ATA, 2008). Identifying and screening for these characteristics will help ensure the success of the program.

Second, implementation can be costly. Setting up VPN, VNC and other forms of mobile technology to allow for remote work can be expensive. Many organizations also provide telecommuters with training, technical support, equipment, office supplies, travel reimbursement, and even furniture for the remote office, all of which cost money. In 2010, organizations spent $1,981 on average per remote worker (Meinert, 2011).

In addition to the cost, other implementation challenges include: establishing an effective means of managing remote employees, dealing with professional and social isolation, overcoming technical difficulties, and addressing numerous security concerns. Difficulty

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