Will Telecommuting Increase Business Cash Flow ?

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

It seems like business owners and CEOs wake up everyday trying to find a new way to increase business cash flow, productivity and sales.

A tool being used more frequently these days to achieve those goals is telecommuting. 

Telecommuting is the process of an employee working somewhere other than at the office.  Usually this means the employee is working from home.  The increased utilization of the Internet has allowed this alternative workplace to become much more popular.  For many businesses it has turned out to be a win-win situation for both the employer and employee.  The telecommuting employee is typically referred to as a teleworker.

Is it something your company should be doing?

Most researchers and business consultants will advise you that it is the right thing for your company to do.

My answer to that question is that yes, teleworkers are going to become a larger percent of the workforce in the future and your company needs to include them as a part of your employee mix.  However, for the program to be successful, your management team must do their homework first or the concept could fail.  There are benefits and concerns that must be addressed.  Here are just a few of them:

Benefits:

  1. Improved Productivity:  There are university, corporate and government studies that show the teleworker operating out of their home is a more productive employee than the employee in the office.  Reasons often given are fewer interruptions, less stress, and a fresher employee ready to work due to not needing to deal with the issues of commuting  to the office. This may be true but, frankly, I am not sure how much more productive the employee working from home really is. There are distractions at home also.  Laureen Miles Brunelli had interesting comments on this subject in a 2009 blog post on About.com  You can read Laureen’s blog post here.
  2. Less Office  Space Needed:  This can be a real cash flow savings for the company.  Less space needs to be leased, no utility or phone cost, and office and workstations can be eliminated.  Those are all real measurable savings.
  3. Flex Time For the Employee:  A real benefit for the teleworker is the opportunity to utilize flextime in their day.  The day can be broken up allowing the teleworker to take time to address home and family issues and still get the job done.
  4. Can Reach High Quality Candidates:  I have seen individuals with advanced degrees who, due to family commitments, have to stay at home.  Yet they still want to realize their professional ambitions.  If they were required to come to an office this high quality candidate would be lost to the company.
  5. Can Utilize More Part Time Employees:  Depending upon the scope of work, the teleworker may not need to be a full-time employee.  For instance, two 20 hour part-time data entry workers might be the best solution for both the company and the stay at home employee.
  6. Opportunity To Employ Handicapped and Retired Workers:  There are some excellent handicapped workers and retirees who choose not to work in an office environment.  They become a real asset to the company working out of their home office.
  7. Improved Morale:  Studies have shown that teleworkers have  higher morale  than those in the office environment resulting in less turnover.  Not having to commute to and from work would be a morale booster by itself to many workers.
  8. Bad Weather Is a Nonissue:  No problem with snowstorms.  While the regular office may be closed for the day, the telecommuting employee carries on as if nothing happened.
  9. Geographic Location Is Not a Problem:  Working remotely allows the company to hire the best candidate regardless of where they reside.  I once hired a telecommuting employee from 600 miles away because she was the best candidate available.  Also, if the spouse is relocated to another city, your company’s teleworker can follow the spouse and continue on as if no move occurred.  

Concerns:

  1. Lack of Social Interaction:  This might be the biggest concern.  The teleworker operating from home does not participate in the “water cooler” conversations or have the opportunity to have a lively discussion at break time with others about the ball game on TV last night.  There must be a process in place to engage the work at home employee if they are the type that requires a lot of social interaction.  A behavioral analyses of the telecommuting candidate might be a good idea to use during the hiring process.
  2. Can the Worker Stay Focused:  Is the  teleworker self disciplined, organized and have the ability to manage their day?  If not, the productivity issue becomes a concern not a benefit.
  3. Is There Buyin From the Manager:  A work at home employee has to be managed differently than the one down the hall from the manager.  Goal setting with specific measurable results and deadlines is critical.  Managing to results is the way to make the teleworker accountable.
  4. Could There Be a Culture Problem:  Not all jobs are a good fit for the telecommuting program.  If there are employees in the office that perceive the teleworker as a slacker that does not pull their weight, then the productivity concern might shift to those employed in the office.
  5. Promotion May Not Be An Option:  If the employee wants to move quickly up in the organization, then working from home may not give them the opportunity to develop and show off their people management skills.  A manager career path training program might necessitate the employee only being in an office environment.
  6. Security Can Be a Problem:  If the teleworker has access to the company database and confidential documents, it is imperative that steps are in place to protect these valuable assets of the company.  A disgruntled employee working remotely can do serious damage.
  7. Are There Savings In Office Equipment:  If the company reimburses the teleworker for a computer, fax, printer and other office needs then how much savings were actually realized?  In some companies the teleworker uses their own home computer with no reimbursement.
  8. Overtime Can Be An Issue:  A happy productive at home employee can easily surpass 40 hours per week.  While managing to results is good, the company still must be in compliance with all labor laws.  This includes not only overtime but also making sure workmens compensation is paid. 

Incorporating telecommuting into your employee strategy can be a real source of additional business cash flow.

It is just important to do your due diligence to assure yourself that the program will be the success that you expect it to be.

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