The fate of teleworking rests in your hands

It’s not in their job description, but some IT professionals are being asked to play a role in developing policies and measuring performance related to corporate teleworking strategies, according to an analyst with Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

Whether you’re talking about Virtual Private Networks, computers properly equipped to handle video conferencing, or distributing long distance calling codes, IT shops are essentially the backbone to every teleworking initiative.

But with greater interest in teleworking also comes a lot of confusion at some organizations.

“Teleworking is really a people initiative, but it’s considered by many to be a technology initiative, and as a result, the responsibility for training and performance management has also fallen to IT,” said Aaron Hay, a research manager at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., adding that these responsibilities should fall to business and human resources managers.

For IT staff burdened with these tasks, Hay warned that an effective telework strategy isn’t going to write itself.

The first policy and performance framework to put in place is an employee teleworking proposal sheet. The document should ask employees to develop specific business goals for the employee, propose a schedule for telecommuting, list required tasks that must be performed at the office, and identify a communications plan regarding how the employee expects to remotely interact with their co-workers.

“If you actually make an employee go through a two-page exercise for their business case on telecommuting, they might come to the conclusion on their own that they’re not a suitable candidate,” Hay said.

Other things to consider when building an employee-focused teleworking exercise should include the equipment needed for the home office, suggested dates for performance reviews, and a proposed probationary period for teleworking arrangement.

After determining that an employee is a good candidate for teleworking, an organization will need to draft up a teleworking agreement. While parts of the agreement will be “canned,” the more personalized the agreement, the better.

It should cover the work tasks that can be completed at home, the number of hours an employee is to be available by phone or by instant messaging, what technologies the organization will use to facilitate work from the home office, and any other technical training required.

“IT would be involved with the teleworking agreement that the employee and manager would sign and provide the technical limitations that the user should be following,” he said.

Providing managers with the tools to properly evaluate someone working from home is also an important area for IT, Hay said. At his own home office, Hay uses Toronto-based FreshBooks’ time tracking software to keep track of his output and how it measures up to his productivity goals.

“If an employee is logging 40 hours a week on the time tracker, but is only producing half of what you’d expect from 40 hours a week, then you can pinpoint an issue really quickly,” he said.

One company that has gone full steam ahead with telecommuting is Cisco Systems Inc., which has recently announced productivity savings of more than US$277 million by letting their employees work from home.

The company ramped up its teleworking program about two years ago on a request from CEO John Chambers and now estimates that 20,000 Cisco employees use the company’s Cisco Virtual Office (CVO) tool to work remotely for their homes

“Teleworking has been going on for quite some time at Cisco, but not at the scale we have today,” Rami Mazid, vice-president of global client services and operations at Cisco, said in June. “It increased 18 months ago and we provided additional capabilities about 12 months ago and are seeing a huge demand to have CVO installed in employees’ homes recently.”

In a poll of almost 2,000 of its employees, Cisco found that about 40 per cent of respondents were not located in the same city as their manager, the average employee telecommutes two days per week, and 75 per cent of employees said the timeliness of their work improved.

And while the huge cost savings on billed hours, office overhead and fuel costs was great news for the company, the primary goals behind Cisco’s telework push was for better employee satisfaction. The survey found that 91 per cent of respondents said the ability to telecommute was “somewhat or very important” to their overall working experience.

“A properly executed program for telecommuting can be extremely effective at unlocking employees’ potential by increasing work-life balance, productivity and overall satisfaction,” Mazid said.

Hay said Cisco has become a best practices model for how to do teleworking for organizations of all sizes. The company has embraced it as part of the way it does business, set clear mandates on how much it wants employees to be teleworking, and have implemented teleworking managers and coordinators to ensure the plan works.

– With files from IDG News Service, Network World (US)