Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which the employee works outside the office, often working from home or a location close to home. Instead of traveling to the office, the employee works by means of telecommunication, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via available technology. Many companies across the country, such as Aetna and Dell, are allowing employees to work remotely. Employees save money normally spent on gas and transit costs, and save valuable hours during the day normally spent commuting to an office location. Telecommuting not only helps the employee, but can benefit the employer as well. Employers can take advantage of savings from decreased occupancy costs and travel expense reimbursements paid to employees. Money saved can then be spent on customer acquisition and marketing which will ultimately yield higher profits.
One of the biggest employer benefits of a remote working environment is the ability to expand the employee talent pool. By expanding their recruitment efforts beyond a confined radius surrounding a physical office location, companies are more likely to attract a diverse and talented workforce. Furthermore, companies with an expanded workforce are better able to serve clients and customers in diverse locations because employees can be located in a time zone convenient for communicating and meeting those clients’ or customers’ needs.
One of the major misconceptions about telecommuting is that employees who are not physically supervised will start to slack off. Contrary to this belief, telecommuting can lead to increased productivity and reduced turnover. Lost productivity and turnover can cost a company thousands of dollars due to the price of acquiring and training replacements. Employees who are unhappy with their commutes are more likely to call in sick or look for another position that is more flexible. Employees who work remotely and are allowed flexible hours tend to have increased efficiency. A better work life balance leads to increased employee morale, which leads to the employee feeling more invested in the company and results in higher work ethic and productivity.
Managing Remote Employees
Supervising teleworkers is more similar to on-site management than one might think. However, there are a few keys to ensure proper management of employees who are not physically present every day.
Hiring the right people: Remote employees should be able to work independently, without the need to be micromanaged. Teleworkers need to be positive and self-motivated. Companies should avoid hiring people who consistently need assistance to complete a task, and who lack communication and listening skills. Employees who can grasp instructions and effectively communicate will prove to be valuable member of the remote workforce.
Embracing technology as a means of communication: Email is not the only means to communicate with an off-site employee. In fact, communicating via email is the most vulnerable to being misinterpreted, since context from tone-of-voice, body language, and facial expressions is absent. Emails should be reserved for objective discussions and task based communication. Chat applications like Google Hangouts, which are more efficient than emails, should be used to share news and updates throughout the work day. In-depth, lengthy, or sensitive meetings should be conducted via video conferencing. If the conversation is meant to provide constructive criticism or bad news, having a face-to-face element is vital and can help avoid the message from being misinterpreted, which is an inherent risk when communicating via emails and chat applications.
Setting Expectations: Maintaining a structured remote working environment is vital. Measurable goals and specific expectations should be set for each employee and clearly communicated, including:
- What should be accomplished within the next week;
- What should be accomplished in the long-term (one-three months);
- Which specific tasks and assignments the employee is responsible for;
- Who the employee should contact if issues arise;
- The number of hours the employee is expected to work per week;
- Managements availability; and
- Employees availability
Progress Tracking: In order for employees’ performance to be evaluated, it must be appropriately tracked. There are different ways this can be done, but some methods may prove more efficient than others. Many mangers require that remote employees send daily email updates describing what they accomplished and the status of various assignments. This process can be automated through use of applications like Wunderlist, which acts as a cloud-based electronic to-do list and can be shared and edited amongst various co-workers. Completed tasks are tracked and new tasks can be added at any time. Additionally, notes and files associated with a specific task can be shared and uploaded directly within the application. Using an application like Wunderlist can lead to an efficient and well-managed remote workforce.
Measure and Compare: Companies should measure how much time is spent on each task by an employee at least once a month. The data can be used to compare productivity of individuals and can also be used to analyze remote employees’ performance versus those working in the office.
Telecommuting has the ability to strengthen a company financially and create a more invested, efficient, and happy workforce. Companies are embracing the trend, offering the flexibility to work from home either full time, or when needed. Telecommuting is changing the way we work, especially in industries that rely on sales. For employees and employers, a remote working environment may be the difference between an enjoyable and stressful work life.
Kenneth R. Cerini, CPA, CFP, FABFA
Ken is the Managing Partner of Cerini & Associates, LLP and is the executive responsible for the administration of our not-for-profit and educational provider practice groups. In addition to his extensive audit experience, Ken has been directly involved in providing consulting services for nonprofits and educational facilities of all sizes throughout New York State in such areas as cost reporting, financial analysis, Medicaid compliance, government audit representation, rate maximization, board training, budgeting and forecasting, and more.