With the continued improvement in technology, and the desire for workers to have a more flexible work environment and increased work/life balance, there has been a tremendous increase in telecommuting. Nearly one-third of the workforce practices some level of telecommuting, and that number is only expected to grow. With the telecommuting trend on the rise, how can you assess if telecommuting is the right option for your company, and what do you need to do to implement it if it is?
Making the decision to telecommute:
Telecommuting is not for every company, but with the advent of cloud storage and new software applications that can improve communication and job tracking, it may be more accessible than it had been in the past. With the recent coronavirus pandemic, many companies received a crash course in creating virtual offices with mixed results. In deciding whether telecommuting is a long-term viable option for your company, you should consider the following:
What aspects of your company lend themselves to virtual operations:
Not every aspect of an organization can be done virtually. There are always going to be certain staff members that will need to be on site. Go through your business operations to determine which functions can be done remotely and which can’t. For example, skilled services like bank underwriting, legal, accounting, etc. are easier to be performed remotely than such services as wait staff, healthcare workers, and construction staff. With the advent of technology, certain services such as medicine, therapy, and education are finding ways to make virtual treatment possible.
Would a hybrid system work:
Moving to a telecommuting environment doesn’t need to be an all or nothing proposition. You can offer your staff an opportunity to work remotely several days a week so that you still have the ability for your staff to come together as a team or unit of a team so that they can develop interpersonal skills, bond, and perform functions that may be more efficient within the office environment as opposed to performed remotely.
Do you have the ability to work in a virtual environment effectively:
In order to move to a virtual environment, there are certain essential that need to be in place, which include the following:
- Policies and procedures that govern the virtual operations
- Proper workspace/set-up for telecommuters
- Proper equipment, software, and connectivity
- Effective communication and oversight
If you are going to move to a virtual environment, you will need to invest in infrastructure to make sure that all staff have: the appropriate resources (such as laptops, printers with scanning capabilities), the appropriate dedicated space free from distraction, and an understanding of what they are supposed to be doing, how their performance will be monitored and measured, and what’s expected of them from a communication perspective. You also need to make sure that proper monitoring, communication, and information sharing tools are available and you have the bandwidth on your server to ensure seamless operations, no matter where your staff are. This will require homework on your part to determine which options are best for you, your company, and your staff. Consider putting together a committee of management and users to explore what the best approach is for you, your company, and your staff.
Doing business in a telecommute environment:
Once you make the decision to move you business onto a telecommute platform, either wholly or partially, there are certain key steps that you need to put in place to ensure effective and efficient operations:
Make sure your staff have the necessary equipment:
Remote workers need certain basic equipment to support successful operations. Every remote employee should have a laptop computer to allow them to work from any place they can find an Internet connection. Workers can easily carry their computers to client, your office, or other remote locations, ensuring that they have consistent access to their software and files. A laptop ensures that they are untethered and can be effective no matter where they are working. Make sure you provide them with a laptop that has plenty of memory and storage, a fast processor, and a built-in camera to make sure you can easily perform all aspects of their responsibilities.
Teleworkers depend on software solutions to be able to work. There are many solutions for every need. You will need to evaluate the various applications that exist and make some decisions on which platforms you will use as an organization and standardize them so that all staff are working uniformly. This will help to ensure easier training, free communication between staff and across departments, allow you to better to manage staff deliverables and performance, and reduce cybersecurity threats through regular updates and patches across your whole network.
Mobile devices are also essential for remote workers. Smartphones and tablets keep people connected when laptops may be impractical. By syncing their phone to their computer, they can respond to e-mails remotely, attend meetings on the run, and maximize their utility during their working hours (whatever they may be). Thanks to cloud-based software, workers can now seamlessly transition between devices, without fear of data corruption or version conflicts.
Finally, remote workers need a printer, scanning capabilities, extra-monitors (including potentially a portable monitor), and potentially a hot spot to provide maximum versatility, especially for staff that are expected to do a large level of traveling.
Staff need connectivity to be effective:
Lack of connectivity is one of the most critical issues teleworkers can have. As a result, you need to make sure that workers have fast and reliable internet service at their home office to ensure enough bandwidth for voice and video calls, online meetings, and conferencing while processing files and updating records. This can be a challenge based upon where remote workers live and other demands on their internet, such as other users of the home internet. With remote workers, you will be saving on rent, so you may want to invest in enhanced internet service to maximize their effectiveness.
Make sure your staff has the tools to effectively communicate and collaborate:
There are so many applications that provide for connectivity between team members and maximize their workflow. Communication tools such as Zoom, Bluejeans, WebEx, or GoTo Meeting provide the ability for staff members to meet, share information and screens, provide for virtual training, and more. In addition, applications such as Slack, Microsoft Teams allow for team members to communicate throughout the day, Microsoft’s Yammer and Facebook’s Workplace provide open communication throughout your organization, and project tracking tools such as Monday.com, Trello, and Workfront all assist you in managing the flow of projects across your staff and your company. When your staff has the right tools at their disposal, you will discover that they can work faster and smarter.
Ensure that proper policies, procedures, and protocols are in place:
Having staff work remotely brings with it a series of new challenges with respect to performance tracking and monitoring, staff on/off boarding, security, and more. As a result, it becomes critical that appropriate policies are adopted and effectively communicated with staff. In addition, there needs to be regular updates and training on these policies and protocols. It is much easier when everyone is in one place to remind them of policies and proper procedures. Unfortunately, when staff work remotely, employers are not as diligent in those follow-ups and reminders, which can provide exposure to you and your critical data.
You should have in place acceptable use of computer policies (limits an ability to access certain websites, limited use of computer to work related functions only, prohibition from loading other software onto machine, etc.), training on proper security and phishing schemes, proper storage of files, appropriate transfer of information (e.g. encryption, shared files, DropBox, etc.), and more.
Set boundaries and create separation:
When staff work from home, there is often a blurring of the lines between personal and work time and space. Staff need to have the opportunity to turn themselves on and off and you need to respect their personal time. Telecommuting provides employs the ability to work from home, be more flexible with their hours, reduce commute time, and create more work/life balance. It also creates an opportunity for staff to be work longer days and be on call 24/7.
In addition, working from home can also come with distractions and inefficiencies, so it is also important for your staff members to be able to effectively understand time frames and deadlines and properly manage their time to meet organizational goals. Software products such as MyLife Organized, Organizer Pro, and MyOrganizer ultimately give employees a centralized place to create to-do lists, plan, set goals, and store contacts. Apps that work in similar ways include Google Calendar, Evernote, Trello, and Toodledo.
Giving your staff the opportunity to work remotely can increase staff productivity, improve morale, and create efficiencies if done correctly. There are a myriad of tools that are available to help improve communication, collaboration, and organization of staff members. If you have the ability to provide this as an option, it could be greatly beneficial to both you and your employees.
Albert Borghese, CPA
Albert is a member of Cerini & Associates’ audit and consulting practice where he focuses on serving the firm’s special education and nonprofit clients. Albert is also involved in the marketing and development of the firm, and frequently participates in recruiting efforts, and research.