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Home-based Employees:
Eight Secrets for Success

By Lindy Barr Batdorf

Even before gas prices started hitting new highs, telecommuting made sense. Benefits for employer and employee are magnified in today’s volatile economy and many business owners across the nation who had not considered it before are considering it now.

Obviously, some positions do not lend themselves to an @home situation, but for those that do, whether an employee works one or five days a week from a home office, benefits can outweigh pitfalls if problems are considered ahead of time.

Three potential stumbling blocks include:

  • Distractions: the dog’s barking, there’s a kid selling candy at the door--what’s an employee to do? And how can an employer be certain the job is getting done?

  • Diligence (lack of): when the boss isn’t “just down the hall” anymore, what are some ways to encourage conscientiousness and timely completion of work assigned?

  • Detachment:  Telecommuters often don’t feel part of the team--how does a manager help them stay connected?

There are eight secrets to avoid problems and realize success for @home employees:

Secret #1: The right employee for the right job. Seems simple enough, right? Well, we’ve all seen that theory unravel in the workplace when certain key factors were not taken into consideration prior to the hire. The same is true for telecommuting. It has to be a good fit. Some questions to consider are:

  • Is the employee on-task and productive when they are in the office?

  • Is he/she prone to distraction?

  • Do they want to telecommute?

  • How much of the employee’s job can be done in a home environment?

  • What percentage of an average workday is the employee needed at the office?

  • Might he/she be more productive away from the office?

  • Could the employee’s office space be utilized for other things on the days they are working from home, like meetings or space for a part-time employee, perhaps?

  • Is flexibility important all concerned?

Here, the company benefits when the employee is allowed to do his job with fewer interruptions, thus, his output may be higher (home interruptions are addressed below).

Secret #2:  Extend the work@home option as a privilege for employees who have a proven track record . When the honor of trust is given to top employees whose work history illustrates they will be productive working from home, even if the budget is tight and raises are not possible, the opportunity to have a more flexible schedule or reduced time burning gasoline in traffic can be seen as a great bonus.

When this is treated as an honor--perhaps announced at a staff meeting as an award for those whose work history warrants it, complete with criteria for earning said honor--others may wish to raise their own personal bar to meet that criteria. It also makes it clear to employees who might otherwise feel slighted what it will take to be considered.

Secret #3:  Write down and discuss openly any and all questions/concerns before a decision is made: Address supply issues, logistics, legalities and tax concerns of your individual state ahead of time. Put in writing what the employer will supply and do, and what is expected of the employee. Similarly, discuss the benefits of working from home. Some individuals thrive in a community and others do well when left on their own. For example, one concern for most telecommuters is the fact that working from home is not without its distractions. Some suggestions might include:

  • Keeping regular business hours in a room with a door that closes

  • Working 1/2 day in the early hours and 1/2 after the kids are in bed

  • What about graveyard shift?

  • In-home video/telephone updates?

  • Use a task sheet and simply do the tasks in each 24 hour period however works best on any given day.

It is up to the employee to limit distractions in his/her environment, but a good manager manages, and will help each employee find success.

Secret #4:  Communicate early, often and clearly: Communication is key to the success of a telecommuting situation. It is easy for an @home employee to feel set adrift and disconnected from the company unless managers make communication a top priority-- and not just one-on-one communication, either.

Encourage other staff members to include all @home employees in all-office communication as well as more formal company-wide communication like e-mail blasts and staff announcements. Nothing spells “disconnect” more clearly than an employee who finds out about the all-staff luncheon after the fact.

Secret #5:  Structure presented with respect: Some employees will need a great deal of structure to make this situation work and some will not. Even so, as a manager, you may wish for every @home employee to submit daily information on work completed. First decide the outline (or template) for the workday schedule and again, put it in writing. You may wish for this list to be submitted to her/his immediate supervisor before the start of every work day (this allows home employees to type it up at midnight and send it off if they like).

Secret #6:  Regular and irregular check-in points: Some employees get little done unless they have tangible accountability to a person or a self-imposed deadline. The level of professionalism the employee exhibits and her productivity will determine whether or not you need this step, or how long it should continue once begun. Again, each situation will be different. Communication ahead of time will clarify whether or not supervisors will need to contact employees at irregular intervals to check in with them. Unless you have worked out an open-ended, work-by-project situation, accountability keeps productivity up and the temptation of distractions are held at bay.

Secret #7: On-site meetings and staff meetings: It is important that an at-home employee have regular and not-so-regular face-to-face meetings at the office in order to feel part of the team. Communication is vital for those who work at home, as is a little office camaraderie.

For this reason, and when possible, @home employees should be expected to attend all staff-wide meetings and/or training sessions and will hopefully be invited to informal gatherings for birthdays or celebrations as well.

Secret #8:  Recognition and appreciation: While this is an entire topic all on its own, it is important to include @home employees in every aspect of working as a team, and this includes extending honor when they have done a stellar job. No employee should be overlooked and ignored if they are part of the working community. All too often, when someone is not seen on a daily basis, they tend to be forgotten or omitted from normal, everyday courtesy and things like thank-you lists. Often, their work is never recognized at all. This leads to discouragement and discouragement leads to resentment and resentment can lead to resignations.

It’s important then, as a manager, to keep the lines of communication open, to encourage other staff members to do the same and to include everyone as equitably as possible, especially when praise and recognition are concerned.

Read other articles and learn more about Lindy Batdorf.

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