NEW YORK — Dangerous winds blew across the Midwest a couple of weeks ago, and North Dakota got its first significant snow.
With these early signs of winter, small-business owners may want to think about letting workers telecommute rather than contend with snow, sleet and ice. And maybe think about allowing them to telecommute long-term.
Telecommuting employees fall into two categories. Many do it periodically, during an emergency such as bad weather or because they have to care for sick children. But workers at many companies have been telecommuting full time or almost full time for years.
Business owners’ attitudes toward telecommuting tend to be love it or hate it. Some have embraced it so much that they’ve been able to move their companies to smaller offices because they don’t need desk space for their full-time telecommuters. Yet other owners are still uneasy about not having their workers onsite, even when there’s a short-term emergency.
The great fear among some business owners is that telecommuting employees may spend more time on distractions like TV or the laundry than they do on their work. They worry they won’t be able to control their staffers if they don’t have face-to-face contact each day.
“If I can’t see the person doing the job, are they going to do the job?” is the question these owners ask, said Rob Wilson, president of Employco, a Chicago-based resources outsourcing company.
Wilson said owners should be able to tell quickly, from employees’ output and the quality of their work, whether they’re at their PCs or watching TV. If it’s clear they’re slacking, then there’s a performance issue to be dealt with.
Wilson also noted that in many companies, employees like regional marketing directors are telecommuting out of geographic necessity. And they do get their work done.
Sometimes, an owner says no because of a bad experience with telecommuting in the past.
“Did they get burned 10 years ago when they tried it and they didn’t have the right person in the job? Now the boss is jaded,” Wilson said.
Their fears are understandable. But, Wilson pointed out, if you’ve hired the right staffers, then you should be able to trust them to get their work done, no matter where they do it.
Some bosses may be worried about being fair to employees who can’t telecommute because of the kind of work they do. The fact is, anyone who works primarily with a computer is probably the best candidate for telecommuting. Someone who works in a factory, restaurant, store or who has face-to-face contact with customers, clients or patients isn’t so lucky.
Put in a guest appearance
Even owners who are OK with employees telecommuting full time may require workers to put in face time at the office. Periodic contact with bosses and co-workers can help telecommuters avoid feeling isolated and help ensure they keep up with everything that’s been going on. If there’s a new employee, it’s a good idea to bring the telecommuter back so he or she can get acquainted.
Some companies require telecommuters to come in at least once a week for meetings or appointments with customers or clients. That, of course, means they’re not telecommuting full time. But it gives a company more flexibility.
Some owners may shy away from permitting employees to telecommute because they think it will mean a big investment in technology. But Wilson noted that there are many secure Web-based services to help small businesses that want employees to telecommute. Companies can download software that essentially will create a network between an employee’s PC at home and the company’s system. To research these services, use a search engine to look for “remote PC access.”