As the mobile workforce continues to grow, telecommuting programs are becoming an increasingly important aspect of modern business operations. More people are flexing their telecommunicating muscles than ever before due to maturing technology behind the scenes and a shift in the definition of traditional offices.
To prove this point, one need only look at a 2015 Gallup poll in which 37 percent of U.S. workers reported taking advantage of telecommuting opportunities over the past decade. This figure represents steady growth and a seven percentage point increase since 1995. The poll also recognized a change in the way people use their newfound flexibility. Rather than seeing the bulk of telecommuting use outside of business hours in addition to traditional hours, the split has become almost dead even for those doing so within the regular nine-to-five as well. This means today’s employees have preferences when it comes to working remotely — and luckily, with cloud-based communications, they have options.
Though you could nerd out over these fancy statistics all day, these numbers simply highlight the need for well-developed telecommuting programs (and the cloud communication solutions to support them). So, how do you go about building such a thing?
Step 1: Establish Expectations
The first step toward building a successful telecommuting program is to lay out expectations for both the employees taking advantage of the program and the organization offering it. Users must fully understand the expectations of the organization while they pump up the jams in their home office. An organization must have a clear vision of the purpose of telecommuting in its own culture and employee workflow, and communicate this purpose to their employees.
For smaller businesses, establishing user expectations can often be left up to individual managers who know the exact parameters of each user’s specific job. While Janice’s TPS reports could easily be done from her humble abode, Jennie’s sensitive data analytics might require more onsite attention. For larger companies, detailing user expectations should take a more general approach for each job category. Regardless, as you build your employee expectations, it’s typically a good idea to think over the following items:
- Work environment expectations: Does each employee have an isolated, distraction-free workspace?
- Communication expectations: Does each employee have phone forwarding, high-speed internet, and virtual private network (VPN) access?
- Availability expectations: Are employees expected to maintain business hours when telecommuting?
- Planning expectations: How far in advance should telecommuting days be planned?
When it comes to expectations from an organization’s point of view, these should simply be an outline of what the company sees as the value telecommuting should bring. In laying out this vision, you’ll be much better able to assess the productivity of your program and how the above user expectations should be shaped.
Step 2: Preparing Your Infrastructure
With a comprehensive plan of what your program will look like from both a user and organizational perspective, you can begin to deploy your world-conquering telecommuting program. It’s important to keep in mind that the goal here should be to facilitate a seamless transition from the traditional office to remote workplace. After all, Janice knows how to whip up a mean TPS report, but she simply needs a system to enable her to work as effectively at home as she does in the office. Making telecommuting easy from a technical standpoint will enable your users to more easily meet the expectations outlined above.
To get you started, here are some typical pieces of infrastructure you’ll need to support a successful program:
- Remote accessibility for internal systems: This is usually in the form of a VPN or virtual infrastructure.
- Mobile hardware: Depending on the job requirements, this could take the form of a laptop, tablet, or even just a smartphone.
- Communication software: This should cover the ability of the user to communicate through voice and video. This category includes tools such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), virtual meetings, and instant messaging systems.
These three key components of telecommuting infrastructure will provide the framework with which your remote users can connect, collaborate, and communicate effectively. Consider a unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solution, which typically packages all this functionality for ease of use and deployment.
Step 3: Manage from a New Perspective
Due to the flexibility it offers, telecommuting is clearly a growing trend with some very tangible benefits. That being said, a successful program requires a slightly different management approach. Since you give up some transparency and visibility of users when telecommuting enters the picture, you’ll need to rely more heavily on effective communication and, ultimately, trust.
Fortunately, that same infrastructure discussed earlier will allow you to maintain open communication across the board. For example, cloud-based communication services would enable Janice to schedule and hold company-wide meetings to drive home the importance of that cover sheet — all from the comfort of her home office. By using shared workspaces such as screen-share or video conferencing, Janice could even collaborate with the team back at the office without losing valuable face-to-face time. Such services simply remove any barriers to being just as effective remotely as a user would in a traditional office setting. Due to the high level of communication and transparency these services provide, Janice’s position can be managed virtually.
In the end, telecommuting is steadily rising as a preferred alternative to the traditional office. By carefully considering expectations, supporting infrastructure, and management strategy, your telecommuting program will be ready to usher in a new era of pajama-empowered productivity.
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