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Telecommuting Best Practices Desperately Needed

The business I work for started to go to hell about a year ago. 

That's when, in an effort to please some of our often unpleasable employees (okay, I'm a little grumpy) plus keep our office space costs down, we shifted to allowing one day per week of telecommuting to virtually all employees and even more WFH time for select employees.

The theory was that everyone would be really happy to have at least one day to work from home. Plus, the plan was to put off expanding our office space costs to accomodate a growing work force. The plan was to shift many people around with carts of personal office items when they actually did grace us with their presence.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here's what:

- How much work from home time individual employees had varied by manager. Some feel gypped and envious. Others are almost never here.

- Amid rising revenues, we still managed to keep revenue per employee flat via the miracle of decreased productivity and increased hiring. Some here might debate WFH is to blame, but those would be people who, IMHO, want to preserve the new status quo.

- Managers have a harder time coordinating prompt in-person meetings with ever changing mixes of employees in the house.

- Employees resented changes to their work from home schedule when the business needed occasional adjustments. 

- Some people, like myself, almost never work from home because the people I need to see in various combinations are rarely present at the same time that I'm available. 

- Employees would wangle keeping the same space as before and not using the cart system. This turned into an even more inefficient use of limited space.. plus now we have a cart parking lot.

I'm lobbying for a complete re-do of this failed experiment. This would be Work From Home 2.0. We'd still have the WFH option because that's what the C suite wants, but would hopefully not perpetuate our own destruction via a lack of guidelines.

This lack of policy is, in my opinion, the main reason why we can't have nice things. We just seem to do stuff without thinking it through and an implementation concensus. 

At this late date, what do you think should be the new effective ground rules? If you only have one good idea, please let me know and maybe the combined list of suggestions will cover it.

Finally and at this point, how do we present these changes to this beloved program in a way that produces the least friction?

Thanks!

Answers

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Here is my take...

1. Deliverables!! Don't focus on the hours....focus on the deliverables.
2. Establish a good communication protocol..... video conferencing or IM software...more like Slack or something similar.

I think that with these two major (there are others but these 2 are the major ones) areas of improvement, you will have a better program.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I worked exceedingly effectively as CFO with a company that had its corporate office in LA, a sales office in NYC (where the President worked and had no desk space for me, and little ol' me in my office on Long Island.

We used a combination of telephone/cellphone, Skype, e-mail, Google Docs, in-person meetings in NY, monthly trips to LA to conduct business (in-person meetings with people on the West Coast). We needed to coordinate meetings with individuals across all time zones, and did it quite effectively.

If I needed a paper file (usually a copy of an invoice for approval, it was scanned and emailed).

As Emerson said, deadlines were deadlines. Quota's or KPIs were just that. They don't depend where you are sitting, but whether you are applying yourself to the task at hand.

The "old fashioned thinking" that you must be in the office to work is really for many jobs (not all) just silly. Communication is the key factor, and yes, just walking down the hall has its advantages to visit fellow employees or subordinates, so does picking up the phone and having a chat. Today with Skype, you can have that face-to-face meeting without the expense of travel, saving those dollars when true face-to-face meeting are necessary.

Lastly presentation: Emphasize that those who WFH must keep to scheduled departmental meetings via some remote process and absence needs to be for some business reason or a pre-approved reason (sounds like the same reasons before WFH was established). Emphasize that some deadlines or KPIs have been slipping, so we need to redouble our efforts (nothing different here either from pre-WFH times).

In essence, don't blame WFH, blame a general re-focus on meeting the strategic and tactical goals of the business.

Anonymous
(CPA) |

"Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area. All told, it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year, and only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about fifty grand annually,"
"Bob is no longer working for the company. It's possible that he is missed, though. His performance reviews were impeccable, and his company considered him the best developer in the building"
http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/17/business/la-fi-mo-man-outsourced-job-to-china-20130117

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

There is always someone who will develop and succeed at a scam.

Just there are those who have embezzled and never are caught and the embezzlement has never been discovered.

It is not a reason to NOT do something, it is a reason to use reasonable management as to not be scammed.

Basaria Christina Marito
Title: Finance & Accounting Manager
Company: PT TUV Rheinland Indonesia
(Finance & Accounting Manager, PT TUV Rheinland Indonesia) |

Change paradigm....that's I would suggest....you can use KPI's to measure performance...use all technology....even you can give presentation about deliverables or have/give training via webex via your smart phone....I believe when we make policy, we must be ready with all consequences...

DANIEL POIRIER
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Pro Tech International
(Chief Financial Officer, Pro Tech International) |

Clear communication of expectations and holding people responsible for meeting those expectations are critical. These two features have nothing to do with WFH. They are basic management skills that need to be implemented in all cases. The causes of low productivity can generally be traced back to some form of management decision process. For example: If an employee is not making the grade, are they aware they are not doing what is expected? Does the employee understand what is expected of them, and when? If the employee truly is a bad apple, then what is the manager doing to either convert this person or get rid of them. There are plenty of good people out there who are willing to do whatever is necessary to have a job with clear expectations.

All of these questions are geared toward the same issue: The role of the management team is critical to ensuring an organization produces the desired output. Company culture is driven from the top. Employees respond to what they see and hear from the people who make the rules. If the rules do not apply to the top tier, then employees will see that and their performance will reflect the inequity. If performance is falling, the causes generally fall with management.

FYI, some other tools available to use for WFH include Ring Central and Face Time (face to face meetings), DropBox (file sharing) and Join.me (screen sharing). I didn't see these mentioned in other posts. They have worked well for me in the past. You might also want to make some effort to help employees set up their home offices by giving them some guidelines on space segregation and child interruption management. If people are going into a WFH situation for the first time, they will spend a lot of time just figuring out how to navigate the distractions that are a natural part of being in the house.

James Scott
Title: Consulting CFO
Company: Early Growth Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Consulting CFO, Early Growth Financial Services) |

If folks live locally, they should be able to attend meetings in the office as needed. Everyone should be pingable at any time working on line, hopefully you see everyone available on Lync, or similar system.

Patti Louie
Title: CFO
Company: Volunteers of America of Los Angeles
(CFO, Volunteers of America of Los Angeles) |

It sounds like a new entitlement culture has been created that may be hard to change. However, you might be able to address the challenges you mentioned with some small, but significant modifications to your program.

Accountability is key when implementing a telecommuting program, as the organization shifts from monitoring hours and face time to monitoring outcomes. With respect to the people who are never there - are they still productive? Can this be measured? For the people who feel like they do not get to telecommute enough, what arrangements have been established and why? Do they think they can still meet organizational goals if they were able to telecommute more? What implications do employees think there should be if productivity decreases? The revenue per employee is a concern that should alarm the C-suite, unless there is a feeling that this is transitional and it is trending up. This is your trigger for getting approval to modify the telecommuting program. Any other productivity data you can generate will also help.

Managing expectations is also key. The issues with keeping office space, and not being open to schedule changes are items that can be managed by clearly laying out expectations of the telecommuting program needing to benefit both employee and employer. With respect to the challenges in scheduling meetings, there should be no change with respect to teleconferences (i.e., availability should be similar as when the employees were in the office). With respect to scheduling face-to-face meetings (assuming telecommuting employees are in the office part of the time), managers need to know that this is just a consequence of having a telecommuting program. Online meeting scheduling tools can help.

With respect to implementing changes, it is always best to speak to values. The organizational value, to which the employees should theoretically align, is to create organizational success - with better sales per employee, more productivity, and better work-life balance for employees. To the extent that these values are not being met, then opening up the floor to ideas (especially from telecommuting employees and the C-suite) as to how these values are going to be met will create buy in to needed program adjustments.

Good luck!

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