April 27, 2009 | last updated March 24, 2012 12:13 pm

Virtual Office | Advice on how to implement telecommuting without losing productivity

In the last few years, telecommuting popularity has sky- rocketed among business owners and executives. According to WorldatWork, an association for human resources professionals, at least 35 million people telecommute.

While that number may seem high, the rationale behind the trend is easy to understand. Apart from the obvious advantages that telecommuting provides — reduced overhead costs and saving on energy — it is a deal-sweetener in attracting and retaining a quality workforce.

However, managing remote offices for business owners can be a nightmare if you lack the due diligence and fail to measure the program's effectiveness on your business model. Here are a few ground rules to ensure that you have a stable program.

Have a pilot project: Not all businesses are suited for telecommuting. To determine if this style works for you, start small. Have some of your willing employees work from home for a few days on a rotation basis. Monitor their performance and check their output. Conduct a review after a month and analyze their work. Check to see if their work at home mirrored their work in the office, and be sure to evaluate their motivation. If you receive a positive response, you can enroll others.

Use technology wisely: Once you are ready to implement the program, it's important to invest in affordable technology. This will facilitate a smooth transition. Your employee's remote office needs a stable and high-speed Internet connection, teleconferencing software and remote office extensions for phones, fax, and printer. A Voice-Over-IP phone would best fit a remote office, and programs such as FreeConference and GoToMeeting let you share demonstrations and presentations. If you can provide the optimum technology, you can increase employee productivity while reducing your operating budget.

Set tasks and routines: A successful telecommuting program depends on the voluntary participation of the manager and the employee. The manager needs to set weekly or bi-weekly tasks and follow up with the employee. A review meeting must be conducted at the end of every week to gauge an employee's performance. For this program to work, it's pertinent that the manager and the telecommuter share effective communication.

Be clear and fair: Employers must be clear with their telecommuters about what tasks can be performed remotely and what tasks need their presence in the office. Your telecommuting policy must state how frequently you want your telecommuting staff to be in office and collaborating with their colleagues.

For employees with jobs that cannot be done remotely, provide them with additional incentives like gas allowance or a commuter pass to iron out any potential conflicts between the two groups.

There are many advantages to telecommuting, but the program must be administered carefully if employers are to benefit from it. If organizations can follow some of these pointers, they will be well on their way to a successful telecommuting program without any of the pitfalls.

Vidya Vasu is COO of SolveIT Inc., a Westborough-based, IT solutions company. She can be reached at vidya@solveitcorp.com.

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