With today's technology, many companies and their employees have figured out that at least some work can be done from home.
The idea seems an ideal solution for some work-related problems. Working from home eliminates commuting time and expense, reduces day-care problems and requires less office space.
But along with the benefits come some challenges: It's more difficult to supervise off-site employees, let alone determine how much supervision they need. Managers sometimes wonder whether productivity, loyalty and morale are high.
As a result, some companies are quick to embrace the concept and just as quick to abandon it, reasoning that the problems outweigh the advantages. Over time, however, the management problems have come into clearer focus.
Whether your company already has employees who work from home or on the road, or you are thinking about starting the practice, here are some tips to help you make the experience profitable and pain-free:
Allowing an individual with a disability to work at home may be a form of "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Click here for a fact sheet on the subject from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Meet face-to-face at least once a quarter. This helps to avoid feelings of isolation that can affect productivity and the quality of work. Include some personal inquiries - a strictly business approach may do more harm than good. And these personal conversations provide valuable insights for developing a management style appropriate for your business and the employee. If regular meetings aren't possible, at least phone the employee regularly and involve the employee in business meetings when possible.
Remember: Off-site employees shouldn't be relegated to "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" status.
Adapt working hours. An employee who works out of the home, or on the road, may not be able to function effectively with traditional office hours. Let the work schedule accommodate the employee. This doesn't mean you need to compromise attendance and productivity requirements, only that you must adapt. Set up times when the employee must be available during normal office hours to field calls from staff, suppliers, or customers, and establish standards for responding to telephone calls, e-mail, and other correspondence.
Be responsive to contacts. Interaction between the boss and employees is a vital part of the normal work experience. An employee who can't bump into the boss in the hallway must know that the connection can easily be made by phone or e-mail.
Develop clear benchmarks. Without the daily interaction of the office, an off-site employee can easily drift from the usual performance standards. You may have to provide more detailed instructions for a project and any misunderstanding about the nature of the work or about the deadline can reach the point of no return when the employee is working from home.
Although innovative technology is making the concept of off-site work easier to embrace, there still are pitfalls to be avoided. Those who have most successfully adapted to this trend have started with one or two employees, gradually expanding. This slow start, combined with the above tips and solid communication, allows you to set up management policies and guidelines that are both fair to the employees and profitable to the employer.