Homeward Bound: Shifting Your Office to a Telecommuting Model


Simon & Garfunkel sang longingly and lovingly of going home, a place of love, music, and easy thoughts. It's a place most of us have to leave every day. But what if we didn't?

Last time, we discussed some of the pros and cons of telecommuting; now it's time to make a decision one way or the other. Is your office ready to make a change? Here are some indicators to consider: 

  • Is much of your work already done online or in the cloud? These types of work environments are ideal for a telecommuting setup.
  • Is your business growing or is space limited? Now might be the perfect time to consider a change.
  • Are your competitors offering telecommuting options? If you want to bring in the best employees, you need to consider options that make your organization an attractive choice. 
  • Does your organizational culture promote independence and flexibility? Allowing employees to work remotely is just an extension of the atmosphere you've already created.

If you've determined your office is ready for the transition to some remote work, how would you actually go about doing it?

Telecommuting isn't an all-or-nothing endeavor; you can choose to give yourself and your employees as much freedom as you feel comfortable offering. You don't need to completely ditch the office one day and suddenly have everyone working from their couches in their pajamas the next.

Identify why you want to switch to a remote-work model. What are your goals for the transition? Are you aiming for greater employee satisfaction? Less distractions when dealing with customers? A reduced carbon footprint? And how are you going to measure whether these goals have been met? You could consider pre- and post-change employee and customer surveys, or set up a system to track customer and employee retention.

Before you start moving employees out of the office, even for just a day a week, you'll need a system in place to measure employee productivity. A survey can measure employee happiness, but how will you know if they are being as productive with their working hours? Some jobs have easy-to-measure benchmarks. Does Jim sell 45 reams of paper a day, whether he's in the office or working from home? Does Pam conduct followup calls with all of the clients in a timely manner, no matter where she's working?

With other positions, though, work output might be more difficult to measure. Be prepared to get creative and to use additional followup methods (work-specific messaging systems like Slack or Skype for Business, or additional phone calls and emails) to make sure everyone is staying on track and staying motivated.

If your initial rollout of a telecommuting policy works well, you may wish to shift even more time away from the office. This can have several economic benefits. You may be able to downsize the office, saving money on rent. Utility costs and other bills may decrease.

But you may also have some additional expenses, based on the policies you decide to implement for your telecommuters. In an office, the organization provides office furniture and all the computers and related equipment. When employees work from home, do the same benefits apply? Or do you cover the computer costs, but not office furniture? (Some employees might be completely happy on their couch with a laptop, but others might need an actual desk, monitor, and peripherals. (Remote.co has a nice breakdown of amenities typically offered to telecommuters.) And how will your employees react to your chosen policy?

Fast Company offers several tips for the transition, including the following: 

  • Schedule regular "meetings" even when employees are out of the office. This prevents everyone from feeling disconnected from their coworkers. Also, videoconferencing can often be more effective than teleconferencing, providing visual stimuli to keep everyone interested.
  • Consolidate your collaboration tools. Everything runs more efficiently if people don't have to check 12 different places for communications and updates. 
  • Set up simple rules and make sure they are followed. For example, have a clear email vs. messaging policy, or timeframes for followups. Also, some telecommuters may feel that they are never "off the clock." You may want to make sure that you have clearly delineated work hours, which keeps a solid line between work and home life. 

Telecommuting isn't for everyone, or every organization. But in the current digital atmosphere, it often makes sense. Fortunately, there isn't one specific way to go about setting up your telecommuting policy; do what is best for you and your organization. Some days it might make sense to head into the office, and other days it might make sense to stay homebound.

Next time, we'll look at ways for individual employees to stay productive and comfortable when working from home.

Action steps you can take today
  • Analyze your current situation. Are you and your employees ready for a change to telecommuting?
  • Gather data, before and after. You want to be able to see if working remotely is creating actual benefits. 
  • Give it a try. Test out a policy giving employees a day or two to work from home. Adjust accordingly if it works, or doesn't.
  • Expect the unexpected. Every employee reacts to change differently. Be prepared to adapt strategies as necessary.  
  • Read The Revolution Will Be Telecommuted by Kevin Peters
  • Visit GrantStation’s Pathfinder to search for links to additional resources.