How bosses can go telecommuter-friendly

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So you’re a manager trying to fill a key position. You’ve just met the ideal candidate: smart as heck, snappy sense of humor, exactly the skill set and experience needed for the post. You make an offer. He grins his likable grin and says: “I’d love to take this job. But I would insist on working mostly from home.”

If the notes I’m getting from various employers and employment advisers are any indication, this is an increasingly common scenario. Salveson Stetson Group, a “full-service retained executive search firm,” offers these tips to companies considering a telecommuting arrangement:

Screen carefully. “Effective candidates for telecommuting should be able to work autonomously and be self-motivated,” said principal Sally Stetson. “They need to remain focused despite distractions, and shouldn’t require constant reinforcement. Employers should take responsibility for ensuring that the telecommuter is meeting company goals.”

Communicate. “Executives who have little face-to-face time with bosses and colleagues need to be communicated with regularly,” said Touey. “They should be able to stay connected with their employers even at a distance so they remain integral members of the team. It’s easy to ‘forget’ people who are not physically in the office.”

Encourage face time with others. “Although e-mail is great, it doesn’t replace a handshake or a dinner conversation with a colleague,” noted Touey. “It’s easy to forget to include telecommuters on things learned through conversations, and it’s easy for the telecommuter to forget to convey any information learned on his or her own.” Companies need to budget for occasional plane trips, if necessary, to keep the connection alive.

Change your culture, if necessary. “Some companies still equate face time with commitment and productivity,” said Stetson. “Telecommuters may need to keep thorough documentation on the work progress, and their managers may need training in how to manage and communicate with direct reports who work remotely. If your corporate climate doesn’t support telecommuting in at least some form, that culture needs to change.”

Think twice before changing flexible work arrangements. Stetson noted that telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements are among the most difficult types of benefits to rescind. “Taking back the ability to work remotely, or to put in a four-day week, may have negative consequences throughout your work force and beyond,” she said. “There are numerous articles, blogs, and chat-room postings about the decisions of some large employers to cut back on telecommuting, so be prepared for fallout that could color candidates’ impressions of your company. Don’t make these decisions arbitrarily, and realize that they run counter to what’s happening in the global workplace.”

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