Whether due to traffic woes, difficulty focusing in open-concept floor plans, or just a desire for more flexibility, telecommuting and work-offsite benefits are increasingly at the top of employees' want lists. 

Businesses naturally want to attract and retain the best talent while also maximizing performance and productivity, but under some executives' belief systems, working offsite and productivity are at odds with each other. 

It may not have to be that way. In fact, in many organizations, less time in the office has been shown to actually improve productivity

Microsoft Japan recently made headlines by introducing a four-day office workweek, which resulted in a 40 percent spike in productivity (measured by sales per employee). The initiative also tackled inefficient meetings and emails, both of which are chronic time sucks in any organization. 

Your situation and results may not be that extreme, but here are some areas to evaluate as you consider implementing a telecommuting policy.

Type of Job/Function

Some roles easily lend themselves to telecommuting setups--especially when the employee is relatively independent, is not in a customer-facing or employee-support role, and has highly measurable outcomes (programming, sales, or analysis, for instance). 

Other roles require an in-office presence most or all of the time. The receptionist who answers the phone and manages deliveries needs to be in the office. Same for the retail floor manager. In fast-moving organizations, key collaborators should be in the office to support the momentum of new initiatives. In the latter example, it's possible that a remote setup can be accommodated for a telecommuting function, but patching someone in on speakerphone tends to disrupt the energy on certain all-hands-on-deck, "sprint" initiatives. 

The rules around who needs to be in the office and who doesn't will vary widely by organization and culture, and they are ultimately up to you to sort out and consider before introducing a telecommuting policy.

Don't overlook the fact that many roles have a blend of functions, some of which must be executed onsite and some that can be handled remotely. Example: Consider batching the weekly work that can be handled remotely for certain roles into one calendar day to give even your most office-bound staff the option to occasionally work remote.

Type of Culture

Another key factor in designing a telecommuting policy is the personality of the organization. A highly collaborative environment where decisions are made in hallway conversations or other informal discussions will struggle to include a telecommuting employee. 

On the flipside, an environment where the staff tends to receive marching orders, head to their cubicles, execute, and then report back on progress over email might easily translate into a telecommuting structure.

Type of Employee

Perhaps the biggest X-factor in evaluating a telecommuting benefit is the nature of the employee you're trusting to work offsite.

Expectation setting is critical on this front. It's easier to roll out a benefit slowly and add to it, versus going big and having to pull back later if things don't go as planned. So introduce your telecommuting plan alongside performance expectations and the understanding that this perk is a privilege, not a right. 

Employees who struggle with deadlines, lack initiative, and don't work well independently may decline in performance if telecommuting. Establish baseline performance expectations for each role to qualify that person for a telecommuting benefit and be clear that the benefit can and will be revoked if performance suffers.

If you decide to roll out a telecommuting benefit, be prepared for grumbling from the people who can't or don't qualify to take advantage of it. If the arrangement detracts from the company's mission, telecommuting is not a fit. Some will protest that it's "unfair" that others can telecommute but they cannot--hold fast on the message that fair is not equal. Different roles have different requirements, and they are governed by what's best for the company above all.

Considering a telecommuting policy may seem like a risky can of worms to open from a management standpoint. However, if you hold a general philosophy that your employees won't work hard unless they're sharing space with you, that suggests an overarching lack of trust in your team, which then begs the question of whether you need a new team or if you need to question the reasons you think that way. Perhaps you simply need to take a more open-minded look at the functions you think require your team's on-site presence.

Keep an open mind, communicate expectations clearly, roll out changes slowly, and measure results to determine if a telecommuting benefit could be the key to boosting your company's morale and productivity.

Published on: Nov 8, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.