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HUMAN RESOURCES

5 Ways to Know if You Should Allow Telecommuting

Depending who you ask, telecommuting is the wave of the future or a drag on innovation. How do you know if it's right for your business?
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This week is Global Telework week. Over 100,000 people pledged to telecommute for at least part of this week, through an organization called Mobile Work Exchange. Last year, according to Mobile Work Exchange, 71 percent of the organizations that participated saw an increase in productivity during the week and 75 percent of participating individuals said they were able to accomplish more.

Marissa Mayer might take issue with those stats. Business Insider is reporting that the Yahoo chief used information from the company's VPN records to show that people claiming to telecommute weren't really working, and that's why Mayer shut the program down. Now, Best Buy is the latest struggling company to rein in workers. This week the electronics giant scaled back its well-known telecommuting program, saying the company needs more collaboration. Some employees can still work from home, but only with an okay from their direct manager.

Clearly telecommuting is not something that can be implemented without oversight and thought. If you are considering allowing your employees to telecommute either full time or part time, here are 5 questions to ask yourself.

1. Am I the kind of manager that can judge performance on results only? This is harder than it looks. You have to have clear goals and expectations. Your employees need to be able to clearly communicate their progress and successes. Micro-management needs to go out the window, as you won't be able to see everything that goes into the project. (Yes, you can install keystroke monitoring software and see when someone is logged onto your VPN, but VPN monitoring just tells you when they are logged on, not if they are working, and if you feel you need keystroke monitoring, telecommuting is not for your employees.)

2. Can the work be, reasonably, done from home? Not all work--not even all computer work--can be done successfully from home. Some requires a lot of interaction with coworkers. Some work requires physical equipment other than computers and phones. The reasonableness may also vary with the week and the project. It may make sense for someone to do the month end reporting from home, but not the day to day project work.

3. Are your employees already doing a considerable amount of work from home? According to a survey by cloud software company Mozy, the average employee starts checking work email at 7:42 a.m, gets to the office at 8:18, and continues to check their work email after 6:30 p.m. If this type of things is happening at your office, your employees have already shown they can successfully accomplish things out of the office.

4. Do they have a desire to work from home? Telecommuting is awesome for some people and an utter nightmare for others. It's not something you want to implement across the board. Offering it as an option across the board, though, may not be a bad idea. Don't discount an employee who says, "Gee, I much prefer to work in the office." If an employee's spouse or nanny is home with small, loud children, they may rather stick pins in their eyes than try to accomplish things at home.

5. Will you be able to meet all legal requirements? If your employees meet the Fair Labor Standards Act qualifications to be exempt from overtime, then having them work from home shouldn't be a big problem. However, if they are non-exempt, can you be sufficiently confident in the recording of their hours worked if they are outside the office?

Take a look at the situation in your office and decide if it's a possibility. You can start out slow--allow people to work one day a week from home--and see how it works out. If it doesn't, you can always cancel. But, you may find out that it increases your productivity and your employee happiness.

IMAGE: coffeegeek/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 6, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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