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Home  > Article

Telecommuting 101

By Kate Lorenz

Wouldn't you just love to roll out of bed, grab a cup of Joe and head to the office in your pajamas? According to a variety of sources, there are anywhere from 2 million to as many as 40 million workers who telecommute for at least part of their work week.

How do you know if your job is ripe for telecommuting? A lot depends on the attitude, objectives and atmosphere of your employer. Then there are considerations about the nature of the work you do.

A report from the U.S. Department of Transportation identified a number of factors affecting the success of telecommuting, including:

  • The job must be suited, at least in part, to performance at a remote location.

  • The capabilities and personal characteristics of the employee must be appropriate to working with little or no direct supervision.

  • The employing firm must accept telecommuting as a legitimate and desirable activity, provide necessary support and have appropriate information technology in place.

  • The supervisor or manager of the employee must accept the concept and practice of telecommuting.

  • The employee must feel comfortable with telecommuting in terms of its suitability to his or her personal work habits and style, its effect on social interactions and on advancement and career.

    Many of the jobs that are ideally suited for telecommuting are professions with "information" or "knowledge" worker positions. These jobs range from accountants and analysts to software engineers and writers.

    "Employers and employees must think about what the business reasons are for wanting a telecommuting program. This could include greater flexibility for both the employer and the employees, productivity benefits or the ability to attract or retain workers," says Jean T. Stimolo, executive director of Telecommute Connecticut!, a service of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Telecommute Connecticut! works with Connecticut employers to design and implement effective telecommuting programs. "Many companies are surprised by the increase in productivity a successful telecommuting program can bring," Stimolo says.

    Stimolo says there are roughly 158,000 people in her state who now work from home, according to a survey completed in late 2006. This represents an 86 percent increase in the number of telecommuters over the past five years. Everyone defines telecommuting a little differently. Connecticut's definition of a telecommuter includes someone who works at home for one or more days per month during normal working hours, however the majority of employees work from home two to three days a week.

    At Smith Brothers Insurance in Glastonbury, Conn., for example, 50 of its 57 employees telecommute either full-time or as needed. Their program started four years ago when the company wanted to retain a valuable employee who was moving to Texas. "It's a great recruiting tool," says Kim Connolly, Vice President and part-owner of Smith Brothers Insurance. "It is good for our employees, particularly our sales force. They don't have to come into the office after sales calls to check e-mails; they can check messages and do their paperwork from home. When someone has a cold, they can work from home and not risk spreading germs to their co-workers."

    "Even I look forward to the days I work from home," she adds.

    Stimolo maintains that one of the first things employees must consider if they would like to telecommute is "how much of their work is portable and what are the tasks that can be done as well or better remotely."

    If a job requires ongoing access to equipment, materials and files that are situated only at the workplace, it could be problematic if you want to work from home. "Employees and their supervisors should also address connectivity, security and voice-data needs," she adds.

    Don't expect your employer to foot the bill for all the equipment in your home-based office. Stimolo says that most employees who work from home one or more days a week use their own personal equipment. "We're not seeing any trends to indicate that employers are purchasing equipment for telecommuters. However we do work with employers to help make sure they have the right interface and security for the company." Connelly says Smith Brothers Insurance will buy one workstation for each employee, either at the office or at home.

    Another key factor, according to Telecommute Connecticut! is an employee's job performance record. Candidates for telecommuting should have a good work history and demonstrated reliable and responsible job performance. Employees should also know their job well enough to keep working without checking in with their supervisor at every stage of a project.

    Even if the conditions are right, working from home isn't for everyone. "Many people don't realize the personal side of working from home," Stimolo notes. Her organization works closely with company HR staff to train employees and supervisors to prepare them for successful telecommuting arrangements. She says those who are most successful working from home are self starters, people who are used to working independently, but they also need to be good communicators.

    Bottom line, says Stimolo: "The payoffs are great for both the employee and the employer when there are clear work goals, proper training and a well-thought out plan for telecommuters."

Copyright 2008 All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.

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