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PART FOUR: TELECOMMUTING

Tips and tricks to make the telecommute switch Add to ...

For the past three weeks, we've been looking at the growing adoption of telecommuting, or working from home.

Even though telecommuting still constitutes a relatively tiny minority of employees in North America, the number is growing fairly rapidly. According to a June report from the Telework Research Network, telecommuting grew by more than 60 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

In previous instalments of this series, we've looked at the various reasons why employers, employees and even entire communities might benefit from telecommuting, covering everything from better work-life balance to less need for office space to reduced traffic.

Over the past few weeks, a number of associations and businesses that specialize in telecommuting have contacted us with various tips and tricks to make the switch to a work-from-home environment that much easier. Here are some favourites:

Start slow

This goes for both employees and employers. One of the main hurdles for businesses considering a telecommuting policy is the prospect of going from a bustling office environment to a half-empty workplace overnight.

That fear can be mitigated by switching employees gradually – perhaps starting with one day a week of telecommuting, and eventually increasing that number as both employees and managers become more comfortable with the idea of working from home.

Stay connected

If you're going to have employees working from home, make sure they're easy to reach during working hours.

The perception of employees disappearing off the radar while away from the office can easily become reality if staff are hard to get hold of when they're supposed to be working.

Fortunately, a lot of everyday technology – read BlackBerrys – makes that less of an issue. Still, business owners should make sure some of their employees don't end up doing a disproportionate amount of the work, either because they're working from home, or because they're not. That that means knowing when to stop getting in touch with staff at the end of the work day, too.

Formalize

According to the Canadian Telework Association, most of the roughly one million telecommuting employees in Canada work according to some kind of informal agreement with their bosses.

While that works fine for many, it's no substitute for a formal work-from-home policy.

The advantages of a formal policy are varied, for both employer and employee.

Managers get to stipulate exactly what's expected from a telecommuting employee, and staff get a detailed idea of what's entailed.

Such a policy also makes it less likely an employee will begin telecommuting without proper training, such as getting guidance on how to use remote desktop software or other tools.

Find the right tools

There are all kinds of services, tools and software out there that can bridge the gap between home and office. Companies such as TeamViewer have built entire software suites designed to let workers access their office computers remotely.

Even most conventional business software, such as Microsoft Office, now comes with some remote access or cloud-based tools.

In addition, the price of teleconferencing necessities such as digital cameras and software such as Skype have plummeted in recent years, making it a lot less expensive to set up remote workplaces.

Research

While telecommuting offers plenty of benefits to employees, a business owner should also figure out just what's in it for the company.

A number of studies have shown that businesses benefits in numerous ways from implementing a telecommuting policy, both directly and indirectly.

These benefits can include a happier work force, less need for company parking spaces and even a boost in productivity.

Before going about building a work-from-home program – or, at least, as part of building one – conduct an analysis of these benefits, and their associated cost savings.

If telecommuting promises to make life easier for both the company and the work force, that's all the more reason to give it a shot.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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