Over the past two decades, the Internet has changed business in two fundamental ways. The first change is the advent of online commerce. Since a consumer can order almost any type of product online and have it delivered to his or her door, folks have been able to save time visiting brick-and-mortar stores. Traditional retailers are still learning how to adjust to that change.
The second fundamental change is that the Internet has made the "traditional" work model much more flexible for many types of employees that work in offices. More businesses than ever are moving their digital operations to the cloud, and employees can access cloud-based services from anywhere.
Studies show that as much as 25 percent of the American workforce works from home at least part of the time -- and up to 90 percent of the workforce would like to work from home.
Implementing a work-from-home program can reduce your company's overhead costs. For employees, working at home reduces fuel costs. It also boosts productivity and job satisfaction. It's potentially a win for everyone. So, should your business implement a work-from-home program right away?
In this article, we'll discuss some pointers that can help your organization implement a work-at-home program successfully.
Choose the Right IT Partner
To implement a telecommuting program successfully, your company will need an IT partner. Choose a partner with extensive experience in telecommuting, cloud services, digital security and IP-based telephony.
The partner should take the time to learn your company's business processes and obtain a deep understanding of the IT solutions that you currently have in place. If your company requires new digital solutions to make a telecommuting program successful, the partner will need to train your in-house staff to maintain those solutions.
If you plan to use a telecommuting program to fulfill after-hours staffing requirements, you should choose an IT partner capable of providing after-hours support.
Implement Strong Security
Although giving employees access to cloud-based services from home isn't inherently insecure, it does present certain security risks because you can't monitor employees who work at home as closely as you can monitor employees in the office.
It's wise to implement a security solution that flags unnatural network behavior such as downloading an unusually large number of files.
Employees who work at home will typically use their own computers to access your business's network -- and you can't control what employees do with their computers when they aren't working.
Consider requiring your home-based employees to run company-approved antivirus solutions. You should also ensure that you have a strong solution protecting your business's network. If home-based employees connect to your business's network via a VPN, a network-aware virus that infects an employee's computer could potentially infect your network as well.
Choose the Right Employees and Positions
If a position requires an employee to work primarily on the computer or over the phone, it's probably a good position for telecommuting. It's also important to choose the right people for telecommuting.
The ideal telecommuter knows his or her job well and doesn't require constant managerial oversight to remain productive. Telecommuting often leads to the best results with salaried workers -- whose compensation depends on performance -- rather than workers who receive hourly pay.
Begin With a Trial
Before your company allows many of its employees to work from home, it's wise to start with a small trial consisting of a few employees. The people that you select for the trial should understand their jobs exceptionally well.
They should also be strong communicators because they'll need to report any problems that they encounter during the trial. Throughout the trial, you should have a dedicated support staff ready to investigate and resolve problems immediately.
Prepare Your Managers
If your managers haven't managed at-home workers before, you'll need to prepare them for the different management style necessary to handle employees who aren't physically present.
Your managers may have to rely on email and phone communication more than they currently do. You should also ensure that your at-home employees understand who they should contact when they need to report technical issues or ask questions about business processes.
A telecommuting program can only be successful with a clearly defined escalation path that all at-home employees understand.