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Managing Telecommuters – Out of Sight But Not Out of Control

written by: Victoria E•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 10/3/2014

Does the thought of setting up a telecommuting program have you imagining your team's productivity taking a nose dive? Or that if you cannot see them, you won't be able to measure their work? Fear not, use the methods listed here to maintain control over productivity and deliverables!

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    Supervising Employees Who Telecommute

    Do you feel isolated from your remote team members? Managing your employees from a remote location isn't new. Managers today often manage remote teams in other cities, and even other countries. Remote managing requires confident, organized, and flexible management skills. Supervising employees who telecommute is really nothing new.

    To insure the success of your telecommuting program, be aware of these 3 key points:

    1. Supervision doesn’t have to mean employees must be ‘within vision’ – In today’s changing employment market, managers have to have flexibility when it comes to supervising teams. No longer are the days of all employees under the same roof, let alone the same flag. Managers have to manage such a varied work load, which often means a varied work team. Managers who cannot adapt to remote team members, teleconferencing, telecommuters, and flex-timers will be left in the cyber dust.

    2. Don’t discard the difficult, transform them – When a company adopts a telecommuting or remote site program, some supervisors will naturally resist. This is natural, it is out of the norm for them, and change is often rejected at first. That resistance does not translate to an impossible obstacle or unachievable goal, but an opportunity to refresh supervisory or management skills in the new work environment. Use available training, reading, or seminars to prepare supervisors or managers for this new way of working.

    3. Management by objective or task, not by time in seats – By re-organizing your performance matrix to objective oriented as opposed to observation oriented, you will be able to track the success of the teleworker, the program, and the supervisor, by tracking the success and completion of the deliverables and tasks.

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    Things to Watch Out For

    In addition to issues supervisors or managers might have in adjusting to the telecommuting program, there are adjustments that need to be made in the workplace for telecommuting to be successful. Since employees are located off of the corporate premises, there are unique considerations that need to be addressed before a telecommuting program goes mainstream. Here are 4 issues you should consider:

    1. Isolation – telecommuters can experience isolation when working from remote sites, removed from interactions. Some companies insist on part-time telecommuting schedules, where workers have set days in the office for meetings or other team events.

    2. Change in management philosophy – as mentioned earlier, management has to make several changes to the way they manage employees. For instance, they must change the way the measure performance, from observation oriented, to objective oriented, they must change how they relate to mixed teams, providing consistent measurement, evaluation and expectations, whether the employee is remote on on-site.

    3. Workers compensation liability – This is a controversial topic. According to an article by Paige Palmateer, Rise in telecommuting prompts concerns over worker's compensation insurance, “There is no special law that delineates when the employer is responsible for injuries sustained by a telecommuting employee, says Jacqueline Jones, a labor and employment attorney at Mackenzie Hughes LLP, a regional law firm based in Syracuse." The law currently states that if a worker was working out of a home office performing work tasks, and is injured, it is covered under worker's compensation insurance. However, if the worker is tending to personal business and is injured, such as going to their kitchen and getting a cup of coffee, it is NOT covered. This is a sticky area, and stipulations around such circumstances should be spelled out in your telecommuting agreements.

    4. Security of proprietary information – If you already have security protocols in place for when employees travel, or for Disaster Recovery events, you may have already implemented many of the appropriate security procedures necessary to implement a telecommuting program. Ask your security team “How will you handle transmission of proprietary information?" and “Will the telecommuter have a computer with secure access to the company intranet or sensitive files?" When you have the answers to these questions you are on the right track.

    Spend some time addressing the issues before the telecommuters relocate to their remote offices. Just keep in mind, implementing a telecommuting program brings a tremendous amount of flexibility into your work environment. Take advantage of that flexibility. Your supervisors, managers, and telecommuters will prosper in an environment where flexibility is the norm, and change is the rule, rather than the exception.