Productivity software

The Trouble With Telecommuting

Time Management

But such an approach implies that it doesn't matter how much time it takes to do the job. And that raises a sometimes thorny question: Are you paying employees for their output, their time or both? Some people work faster or more efficiently than others, especially when working from home. If an employee hits his output working only four hours a day, is that a win-win situation or poor use of that employee?

"People say they manage by results, but they also like to know whether the person is only active a few hours a day," says Eric Spiegel, CEO and co-founder of software start-up XTS Inc. In a previous job as an IT manager, Spiegel had bad experiences allowing staffers to telework. Members of his team were sometimes unavailable during work hours, and he had trouble scheduling meetings.

To avoid such problems, he says, you should decide upfront whether meeting deliverables is enough, or whether you will require employees to be at their phone and computer at certain times and for a certain number of hours.

3. Will creativity suffer?

Beyond the hours-vs.-output debate, there's a larger question that pertains particularly to jobs where deliverables can't be easily quantified: Are you getting the same level of intellectual investment from your remote employees as you would if they were in the office?

In software design, for example, creative ideas can be the most valuable output. Should you measure performance based on creativity? Will workers be more creative at home -- or less?

Maybe you should measure quality rather than quantity. If so, what constitutes high quality? The answer will depend on the person and the type of job. The important thing is to have a frank discussion of what's expected -- including intangibles like creativity -- before you allow an employee to telework, with the understanding that the arrangement could be changed if expectations aren't met.

Today, all seven of Spiegel's employees telework. The difference, he says, is that they are all senior-level people whom he personally hired. Thanks to stock options and equity interest, they are highly motivated.

As an added bonus, Spiegel doesn't need office space at this point in his young company's development.

Even so, he advises managers to proceed with caution. "If I had to go back and manage a support team at a Fortune 1,000 company, I'd take a different stance," Spiegel says. "I'd want more control over what teleworkers are doing."

4. How will telework affect collaboration?

Think about the culture of your organization and how the employee fits into it. Some people are naturally creative, innovative and inspirational, notes Robert Keefe , president of the Society for Information Management and senior vice president and CIO at Mueller Water Products Inc. These people stimulate discussion and generate ideas, and others like to work with them.

"Some people are like the gel that holds the organization together," says Keefe. The organization would lose something if those people worked remotely 100% of the time. "That's a very soft intangible, but something that's often overlooked in team dynamics," says Keefe.

Communication is a related factor. Some companies are more reliant than others on informal communication, where an employee just walks down the hall to IT to solve a problem or hash out an idea, Holbrook notes. Moving a key IT employee out of that picture could upset that delicate balance.

For example, Intel relies on a high level of collaboration, according to Intel CIO Diane Bryant. The company found that projects were completed much more efficiently when all the IT workers were at one site rather than spread out over two or more sites -- or in remote locations.

5. What about employees 'left behind' in the office?

Timothy Golden, associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, published a study earlier this year suggesting that allowing some employees to telecommute can decrease job satisfaction for co-workers who remain in the office and increase the chances that they will leave the company.

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