The top 10 telecommuting traps

Most IS managers focus on the myriad technical details when developing a telecommuting program. However, personnel, psychological, and legal issues can overwhelm even the most technically perfect program. We discuss the top 10 reasons why telecommuting programs fail and how to prevent them. Issues are presented in reverse order of importance.

10 Insufficient Support Infrastructure: Because they often work extended hours or in a different time zone, teleworkers can stretch an enterprise’s support infrastructure. Teleworkers cannot easily give their machines to technical support when problems arise, nor can technical support use remote-control tools to troubleshoot remote computers if the employee’s problem is with remote access. Solution: Train telecommuters on remote workstation configuration and maintenance before they begin to work from their home offices. Train the support staff on the remote-access environment and consider expanding the hours for which technical support is available.

9 Insufficient Security Policies: Teleworkers typically require full access from home to all the system resources that would be available to them within the enterprise. But it can be difficult to validate the teleworker’s identity. Solution: Revise security policies to address the issues regarding employees working in a home environment (e.g., corporate use of personal computers and personal use of corporate computers should be discouraged, and sign-on and authentication procedures should be strengthened).

8 Union Difficulties: Many unions feel that telecommuting interferes with their representation and collective bargaining power. Solution: Approach union leaders early to construct a program that is acceptable to both the enterprise and union.

7 “Quantifiable” Productivity Gains Aren’t Achieved: Too frequently, the enterprise embraces telecommuting to attain a mythical 20 percent increase in user productivity. However, changes in productivity are difficult to measure; many knowledge workers don’t have quantitative (or even objective) performance metrics. Solution: Rewrite performance metrics for all eligible job roles to focus on objective, output-oriented metrics, and train managers to use the new performance metrics.

6 Teleworker Productivity Declines: Telecommuter productivity usually declines in the first six to 10 weeks of the program’s implementation. These decreases are due to insufficient training in using the remote workstation, isolation from the workgroup, and inexperience in filtering out distractions at home. The productivity decline is generally temporary but can dishearten the telecommuter (and the enterprise), leading to high dropout rates. Solution: Minimize the impact and duration of the productivity decline with proper training. A telecommuter training lab can provide an excellent introduction to telecommuting, and lets employees practice setting up and maintaining remote equipment.

5 Overall Productivity Declines: Without sufficient workgroup tools to support on-line and off-line collaboration, overall productivity will decrease as the workgroup disintegrates. Solution: Encourage communication by publishing home office numbers and work-at-home schedules so that coworkers feel more comfortable calling the teleworkers. Longer term, modify workgroup processes to take advantage of collaboration tools.

4 Employee Morale Drops: Without formal policies that define employee eligibility, available equipment, the amount of telecommuting that will be supported, and other details, a telecommuting program can result in lower employee morale. Unevenly distributed telecommuting privileges can lead to frustration. Solution: Establish policies that outline eligibility requirements.

3 Budget Overruns: Although many think telecommuting can help reduce operating expenses, telecommuters are more expensive to support than their office-bound counterparts. According to GartnerGroup’s 1998 study of remote-access total cost of ownership, a full-time telecommuter can cost as much as 124 percent more than an office-bound worker in terms of equipment, support, and voice and data communications. Solution: Perform a thorough cost/benefit analysis at the beginning of the project and allocate enough money to support the program.

2 Legal Morass: When deploying telecommuting, the enterprise must ensure that it is in compliance with all local, regional, and national regulations. Solution: The legal department should provide guidance in all stages of the telecommuting program and should review all telecommuting policies.

1 Management Reprisal: Many telecommuting programs (even those initially driven by end-user demand) find a surprisingly small number of volunteers for the program’s pilot or deployment stage.

This is mostly due to employee fear that management will look harshly at people who do not work in the office. A lack of consistent productivity metrics enhances the fear that “out of sight” will mean “out of mind.” Without sufficient participation, telecommuting programs tend to be canceled after about a year. Solution: Managers must be convinced of telecommuting’s benefits and should be trained on how to work with remote employees. Management buy-in is the single most important prerequisite.

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