Creating a Successful Telecommuting Policy Post-Pandemic

A survey from Pew Research Center found that the vast majority of remote staffers think working from home is somewhat or very easy. In that study, four out of five respondents said they have no problem fulfilling their job requirements from home, and nearly as many said they feel comfortable with their workspaces. In short, they don’t mind working away from the office—at least part of the time.

Many employers see the advantages of telecommuting, like saving on office space and seeing an increase in worker satisfaction. Despite this awareness, many struggle to put a telecommuting policy into action. According to CNBC, companies with teleworkers are scrambling to build their cultures in this new way of working while figuring out how to keep people engaged when they’re not physically around each other.

One thing is clear: Telework isn’t going anywhere. It has increased by 173 percent since 2005, and it has exploded because of the pandemic. As a result, employers must craft new (or update previous) telecommuting policies.

Designing a Telecommuting Plan

Telecommuting can’t successfully exist without a clearly defined policy in place. This is true whether you’re allowing employees to work from home, work remotely, or embrace a hybrid work model that merges the two.

What’s the difference? Working from home means working from a residence, whereas remote work happens wherever a worker might be—in a car, a coffee shop, or the reception room of a doctor’s office.

Unless you specifically expect employees to only work out of their homes, you’ll want your telecommuting policy to cover all the bases. It should take into account every possible working scenario.

For example, you may have some remote or work-from-home employees who occasionally come into the office. When they do, they’ll need a place to work and maybe even permission to be on-site for the day. Therefore, it’s key to take a holistic approach to your telecommuting policy.

Here are a few other guidelines to follow when crafting your telecommuting plan:

1. Be specific about things you’d take for granted with office workers.

There’s a big difference between managing someone who clocks in at the office five days a week and someone who logs on from somewhere else. You can see the former; you have to trust that the latter is doing what they say they are.

However, you can still effectively oversee your reports by mapping out expectations. Are telecommuters free to make their own schedules? Or do you expect them to be available during specific business hours? Figure out how to monitor this process in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed without leaving you short-staffed.

You should also explain the protocol for telecommuting employees to “leave” their desks for extended periods. Should they block off their “unavailable” times on their calendars? Check in with supervisors? Talk with current teleworkers to see what would feel normal for them while eliminating any confusion for the team. Providing detailed and comprehensive expectations will ensure everyone knows how to operate under the hybrid work model.

2. Ensure employees have the proper equipment.

Never assume that your telecommuters have the necessary equipment at home. Talk to them about what technology they have and what they still need. Some organizations allow employees to buy devices or furnishings; other companies purchase the same setup for everyone who will be working from home or remotely.

You can’t expect employees to use their personal laptops or printers for work assignments, either. This would put your company’s data at risk. Talk with your IT manager about the safest ways to enable telecommuting while still protecting your company information. Relay any liability information to telecommuters to make sure they understand their responsibilities in being smart stewards of company information.

3. Construct a communication plan.

Employees working outside the office can find themselves out of the loop, which can lead to bad feelings, miscommunication, and customer problems. Your role is to foster transparency across your organization—regardless of where your workers might be.

One method of communicating with everyone is through a centralized platform, such as Slack. Just note that it shouldn’t be your only way to keep people apprised of what’s happening.

Add communication workflows and suggestions into your telecommuting policy. This step will give team leaders examples to follow so they don’t inadvertently alienate remote employees.

4. Set up a system to gather continuous feedback.

Your telecommuting policy should include ways for employees to talk about their experiences. Don’t wait to send out a survey once a year. Offer workers a feedback system so they can voice any telecommuting concerns—or brilliant solutions.

As you receive incoming suggestions and notifications, take them seriously. Listen to what’s happening on the ground and remain flexible. Your company’s willingness to make changes will show employees that you value their opinions and understand that this is a process rather than a destination.

Stay alert for any signs that your telecommuters might be struggling with their physical or mental health. It’s tough to notice that someone is having trouble dealing with change when they aren’t in the office.

How people work has changed tremendously over the past two years. If your internal policies haven’t caught up, it’s time that they evolve. Open a document and start planning. It’s never too late to create a streamlined and successful telecommuting policy.

When Will HR Telecommute as a Way of Working?

I was reading an article in Information Age the other day. The author was talking about importance of unified communication platforms at work. It is important to have good digital communication because that is an increasing need in the workplace and beyond for the reasons expressed below. In reading the article it made me wonder if HR will be one of the last groups to adopt telecommuting as a way of working.

Two Groups of Employees

The author of the article, Nicholas Ismai, said there are basically two groups of workers in the workplace today. He said, “On the one hand, we have workers who aren’t ready for the digital transformation of the workplace […] On the other hand, there is a large part of the workforce that wants more and better communications technology as soon as possible.” Ismai said that it will be a challenge to get everyone onboard to using some of this digital technology. If it is too much, too fast, then the first group just won’t get it. If it is too little then the second group will feel constrained and may even be tempted to leave in order to get better digital communication opportunities. I will let you guess what the label is that goes with this second group, but it begins with M and consists primarily of younger workers.

Ismai said’ “A majority of younger workers, in particular, millennials, who will constitute 50% of the workforce by 2020, say they prefer to communicate electronically at work rather than face to face or even over the telephone, and they have been known to change jobs to get better tech at the workplace […] Younger workers routinely make use of their own technology at work already, and they believe that it makes them perform better.”

Older Workers 

On the other hand, Ismai says that older workers prefer communication tools that make use of calling and conferencing. Many of them have been around longer, have become the experts in their areas and “if they are obliged to struggle with repeated system failures, or to memorize complicated steps to communicate online, they will stop trying.”

HR Workers 

This brings me to the thought I had about HR. The driving force behind this technology is productivity and collaboration. How will HR adapt? Many HR people feel it is necessary for them to see and be seen. To HR the “face-to-face” interaction is of vital importance, be it in the hiring process but also the development process and ultimately the termination process. If they do this all digitally they are removing the “human” component from their job.

I know of some HR workers that can operate totally digitally but not many in the corporate world. As we get an increasingly younger workforce will face-to-face become passé? How much use will HR make of collaboration tools with employees? How much HR can be done just in a digital manner? Will digital HR people be seen as not fulfilling the definition of their job?

These are the questions that made me think that HR may be the last profession to truly adopt full-time telecommuting. What do you think?

This post was written by Mike Haberman and first published on Workology.

Telecommuting Is The Future of Work

In many companies I partner with, a certain percentage of employees work from home or are virtual employees – contractors or long-term freelancers. The percentage varies (ASTDSHRM), from 30 to 45 percent, which seems consistent with what I hear from the HR practitioners and leaders that I collaborate with. It seems inevitable, then, that working from home, or being a virtual employee, is an established trend, Yahoo!’s action to limit remote employees notwithstanding.

What Marissa Mayer did at Yahoo! Made sense for the struggling company: she was able to concentrate on getting people reconnected physically and in support of the company’s mission and culture. It also seems to make sense in the context of Mayer as a manager; her reputation for hands-on control preceded her selection by Yahoo!’s board and may have been one of the reasons she was chosen for the role.

Nevertheless, especially in tech companies, having remote and virtual employees is not only a way to get things done round the clock, without commuting, and with hard-to-find skill sets but is also a way to meet the needs of employees who don’t want to or can’t live near the mother ship.

As a proponent of work-life flexibility to recruit and retain talent and an observer of the World of Work, I support the notion of virtual workplaces and the reality of having virtual or remote employees. Not everyone wants to, or can afford to, live in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston/Cambridge, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham or NYC and around the globe the story is much of the same.

Red Hat is one example of a highly distributed, highly effective company; in addition to its corporate hub in Raleigh, NC and development center in Westford, MA, it employs many highly-talented virtual employees. Red Hat’s culture is friendly to remote workers. Apple, on the other hand, is densely concentrated in Cupertino, where plans for a spaceship-like office complex are moving forward. Its centralized, command-and-control culture appears to be less adaptable to supporting large numbers of remote workers. Go figure.

Here, as elsewhere in the world of work, two principles prevail: know thyself, and know thy culture.

As a consultant I see myself as a virtual employee of the brands with which I work; as an entrepreneur I work actively with virtual teams. In the former case I need a specific set of skills to work virtually. I must possess the temperament and skills to succeed as a virtual team member. This requires me to know myself, to be self motivated,focusedcurious and flexibleCollaboration is essential.

As an entrepreneur who works with virtual teams, I need a somewhat different set of skills to manage the remote players. I need to maintain a corporate culture supportive of – and with technical and communications systems in place – to enable remote employees to be successful. Here I must be self-aware, in tune with my skills, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. It also requires me to be

empathetic, emotionally intelligentsensitive to what others need, and willing to provide the tools necessary to success – not just a mission statement and goals, but the communications and technical infrastructure to empower virtual teams.

As Rich Thompson of CPP Inc. (publishers of the Myers-Briggs self-assessment tool) wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review, self-awareness enables managers to understand their people, both on-site employees and remote employees. Understanding gives managers critical insights about the skills, temperaments, motivations, preferences and flexibility of their employees. It helps them see beyond the limits of a CV or resume into the person and his or her passion (I call this seeing people in 3D – no laughing allowed), which enables management to put the right person in the right job, regardless of where the employee sits physically.

For employees, self-awareness is an equally important attribute. Only with self-awareness can people understand their full capabilities, what motivates them or alienates them, their ability to learn, adapt and be flexible (excellent and necessary qualities for a remote employee) or their need for structure, routine and predictability (attributes of an employee better suited to an on-site job).

I agree with Thompson that the Myers-Briggs (one of many great tools) is an excellent tool to promote self-awareness both among managers and employees. It is especially useful in helping employees (and managers) understand if they are well-suited to working remotely or better served working in an on premise office setting. Remote is definitely not for every personality and career track.

So Know Thyself, whether you occupy the corner office or work from a kitchen table in St. Louis. If as an employee you look into yourself and can’t find your core – what motivates you – take a personality inventory or talk to a career coach and reconnect with what motivates you and will make you a successful employee, no matter where you sit. If you are a manager who questions the value of virtual employees, talk to a mentor or take a personality inventory. Explore your willingness to tolerate uncertainty and change. Probe to understand where you’re flexible and what your exact limits and expectations are. Get real with yourself first – the rest will fall in line.

I suspect, as Marissa Mayer rebuilds the corporate culture and adaptability of Yahoo!, she and her executive team will become more open to having remote employees again. For all the companies struggling to manage remote teams, remember to seek understanding and celebrate flexibility. For all the companies succeeding with distributed workforces, remember to maintain self-awareness and an adaptive, connected culture. The World of Work has changed from one in which everyone sits in the same building to one in which many sit remotely but share the same values and culture. Celebrate the differences, and strengthen the foundations of trust and workplace culture. Recruit to retain your talent.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes

Photo Credit: asisine10 via Compfight cc

Prepping For Telecommuting

Telecommuting is an enviable luxury that many companies are beginning to offer their employees. Rather than drive in a sleep muddled haze to the office, stumble to the coffee machine, and then begin the day under the glory of too bright florescent lights, you can begin to sleep in, roll out of bed, and begin work on your personal laptop.

Before you rush into telecommuting, you should ensure that you are equipped with the proper knowledge, tech, and surroundings to succeed. Telecommuting can be a dangerous game for the unprepared. Here are four steps to ensure your work from home initiative is a success.

Electronic Device

Most jobs require some form of electronic supply. When you work at the office, most companies provide everything that you will need to perform your job. Very few companies will purchase their employees a laptop, a mouse, a keyboard, or a head set when they work from home.

Employees should only attempt to work from home once they have ensured that they have all of the devices necessary to perform their professional duties at home. Don’t just rush out to purchase every item you think that you need. Since new electronics can be expensive, limit the number of new items purchased by:

  • Identifying what devices you already have lying around.
  • Checking if you can purchase or borrow old electronics from family and friends.
  • Determining if any of your items can be finagled to a new purpose. (For example a tablet can be transformed into a laptop by purchasing a wireless keyboard and possibly a USB OTG)

Protect Your Main Device

Before you begin working from home, you might want to do a deep clean of your laptop. If your computer is still under warranty, take the time to bring it to a professional for cleaning and virus removal.

A deep clean of the hardware will catch any problems before they result in catastrophic problems that could result in a loss of a computer permanently or for a few weeks.

A deep clean of the software (for viruses) will eliminate any bugs that could potentially lead to a cybercriminal stealing confidential professional information that could lead to you being indirectly responsible for a major company hack.

If you don’t have a plan that currently offers a free computer cleaning, you should focus on:

  • Updating your virus protection and your computer software.
  • Run full computer and virus scans.
  • Clean the dust from the laptop. (Dust can lead to computer overheating).

Fill Knowledge Gaps

Now is the time to analyze your technical knowledge. It’s an unfortunately reality that 1 in 3 U.S. workers lack the knowledge to be able to use the technology required for their job. And only 1 in 10 have truly mastered the use of the tech tools that are required of them.

This gap in knowledge while a concern is manageable when you have someone within the building who can walk you through how to utilize the tool when needed. Without that immediate support, individuals who have not mastered a tool might fail to complete a job, might need to delay performing the task by hours or days, or might spend an excessive amount of time performing their duties wrong.

Before you begin telecommuting you can limit the possibility of skill gap problems by:

  • Compiling a list of devices, apps, or software that you have not mastered.
  • Asking co-workers to walk you through how to use unfamiliar tech or give you links to articles or videos highlighting how to use the tech.
  • Waiting a week or two to begin telecommuting (if possible) to proactively begin using the tech. This will allow you to get immediate aid when you stumble across a problem area.
  • Letting managers or co-workers know that you might need to ask questions about certain apps or programs. This way they will have an eye out for any questions you have.

The ability to telecommute is an enviable perk. Before you rush off to begin your new work-from-home adventure, you should ensure you are equipped with the right equipment and the right knowledge. Failure to prepare could pave the way to failing to perform your job efficiently. Failure could lead to a very abrupt end to your ability to telecommute.

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