Despite the unemployment numbers, finding qualified employees is still a major issue facing employers, but by offering attractive benefit options, such as a telecommuting arrangement, many top job candidates will often take a second look at a potential employer, says Brandi Britton, district president at Robert Half International.
Besides attracting top employees, many employers are also offering telecommuting arrangements because of the savings they can create for both sides, says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder. Long commutes are eliminated for employees, resulting in less travel costs, and operational expenses are reduced. Offices can be smaller, which, in turn, means there is less utility usage and sometimes lower rent payments, Britton adds.
With these advantages in mind, an increasing number of employers have started offering telecommuting arrangements. In fact, according to a recent Accountemps survey, 33 percent of chief financial officers say remote office opportunities have increased over the past three years.
Certain positions work especially well for telecommuting, Haefner says, particularly those dealing with database entry and technology. However, positions that require continuous collaboration and teamwork may never be right for full-time telecommuting. Depending on what motivates a person, some individuals also may be better suited than others for telecommuting.
“On the individual level, some people need a separate work and personal space to effectively do their jobs,” Haefner says. “Telecommuting can be lonely; detachment from the office, for some, is demotivating. But some people work harder and for longer when they’re at home and comfortable.”
Even though remote employees may be away from the office, employers can’t take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to managing these workers, Britton says. Remote employees often work at odd hours, which can cause problems for onsite employees who need more immediate responses; thus, specific communication expectations should be set. For example, instituting a rule that remote employees must respond to all communication within two hours is an option.
“To get the most out of remote employees, you need to observe productivity levels to ensure deadlines are being met, and it all comes around to frequent communication,” Britton says. “If there are problems, you need to meet with the employee, address it and require improvement. It’s a two-way conversation, and if those activities do not improve, then you’ll have to look at revoking the privilege of being able to work remotely.”
In some instances, having telecommuting arrangements can boost employee morale because of the personal flexibility; however, being away from the corporate office can lead to feelings of disconnect, Britton says.
“Although employers may provide remote offices as an incentive, they still need to keep the communication frequent and plan activities for all the employees to get together,” Britton says. “This will give a good sense of camaraderie, which will help drive morale, as well.”
Every quarter could be a good time for group events, Britton says, because it gives remote employees the chance to see what was accomplished, where the company currently stands and what the future holds. Telecommuting may give employees the chance for independence, but it shouldn’t completely alienate those employees, either.
As employers move forward in this economy, Britton expects to see telecommuting continue its rise in popularity. Although the market is still tough, employers are still looking for ways to differentiate from competitors and attract the top talent.
“Despite what the media says, it’s still hard to find good workers,” Britton says. “In order for companies to attract talent, they need to provide a variety of benefits, and remote working arrangements will be one of them. You’ll start to see a lot more of this because it’s an attractive incentive for employees.”