You are on page 1of 11

Going Virtual:

The Telecommumuting
Revolution

4imprint.com
Going Virtual:

lue Paper
The Telecommuting Revolution
What do more than half of Sun Microsystems’ employees have in common with
nearly 40 percent of IBM’s workers?

They all are telecommuters. As of 2007, 40 percent of IBM’s 330,000 employees


telework on any given day, 1 while 56 percent of Sun Micro’s employees work
without an assigned office, either from home or in a “flexible office space.”

Translation? Teleworking is the new flextime.

And, there’s been quite the payoff. Sun Micro’s telecommuting


program has led to many benefits, including saving more than
$387 million in IT and real estate costs and a 28K reduction in
CO2 annually. 2

Telecommuting, or otherwise known as “teleworking,” is when


an employee, group of employees or entire organization works
virtually, out-of-office from home or another remote location
(coffee shop, anyone?). As of fall 2008, 40 percent of U.S.
companies permitted some sort of teleworking, whether part- or
full-time. 3 If you crunched those numbers, that means more than
35 million employees telework at least one day per month! 4

It’s no surprise though, when you look at its benefits.

What’s in it for me?


Teleworking benefits to both employers and employees may include: Decreased
operating and commercial real estate costs, increased quality of life and employee
happiness, positive environmental impact (less CO2 emissions), and greater
productivity due to less commute and interruption time.

Another strong benefit to telecommuting is of increasing the size of the talent


pool for employee selection and recruitment purposes. Teleworking allows for
greater attraction of:

1 C
 ooney, Michael. “Telecommute: Kill a career?” Network World. 17 Jan. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/011707-telecommute-career.html>.
2 T
 ahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>.
3 K
 oerner, Brendan. “Home Sweet Office: Telecommute Good for Business, Employees, and Planet.” WIRED. 22
Sept. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008 <http://www.wired.com/culture/cultureviews/magazine/16-10/st_essay>.
4 B
 arrett, Amy. “Making Telecommuting Work.” BusinessWeek. 17 Oct. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_70/s0810048750962.htm>.
© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
• Generation X and Y whose lifestyles aren’t accustomed

lue Paper
to the cubicle
• Disabled employees who may find public transportation or workplace
building accommodations difficult to manage 5
• Workers across the globe who need not be in-office to get the job done
• Baby Boomers craving flexibility as they grow older yet want to stay on
the job 6

In this Blue PaperSM, we’ll cover more teleworking benefits and delve into the how-tos
from both the employer and the employee angles. First, we’ll start with the employer
side – because, employees can’t telecommute if their employers aren’t on board!

Setting the stage


Before employers dive head first into the telecommuting revolution, they need to
make sure that the correct policies and protocols are in place. Since it is likely that
employees will be (or, already have) requesting the ability to telework, you’ll want to
be prepared.

A basic telecommuting policy begins with the reasoning behind why the organization
is considering adopting telecommuting. Here, goals and purposes should be outlined,
followed by a punch-list of any necessary to-dos before any policy can even be
implemented. Then, the policy itself should be rooted in the following elements
(expand upon if needed for your organization’s size or scope of business):

• Technology – What types of tech tools will staff members
need to stay connected off-site? Also, you may want to
consider who will cover what costs. Most companies will
pick up the costs of Internet access, a phone line and
teleconferencing equipment if an employee teleworks
three or more days per week. 7 We’ll go into deeper details
about tech tools later on.

• Productivity – How will productivity be measured when


workers aren’t in-office? Brainstorm new ways to measure
productivity, whether it’s more consistent progress
reporting or high-tech tools that allow you to see what
tasks they’re working on while at home.

5 T ahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>.
6 Tahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>.
7 Barrett, Amy. “Making Telecommuting Work.” BusinessWeek. 17 Oct. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_70/s0810048750962.htm>.
© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
• Feasibility – Think about what positions lend well to teleworking, and

lue Paper
how your organization will function in a part- or full-time teleworking
environment. What employees will be allowed to apply for telecommuting
status, and under what terms? According to the International Telework
Association, two days per week is the U.S. average among teleworkers. 8
In addition, jobs that don’t absolutely require face time or involve longer
periods of concentration will yield well to a telecommuter work style. 9

This foundational element may also lead to developing a telecommuting


“request form” that each employee must fill out if he or she wishes to
telework. A “telecommuting agreement” may be beneficial for employees to
sign too, that outlines standards to be met, as well as any legality issues. 10

• Connectivity – In order for a telecommuting program to take off without
a hitch, a communication plan must be in order for everyone involved.
This includes workers that are still in-office. Make sure
your policy includes how non-teleworkers can connect to
their virtual counterparts (i.e. Calls to virtual employees
are completely acceptable – you don’t need to wait until
they’re back in the office to get your answers). This will
ease any feelings of resentment that often occur when
some employees are in-office while others are not.

• Safety – Microsoft’s small business guru Monte Enbysk
warns employers to not cut corners on ergonomics when
establishing a telecommuting policy. Why? Because
although OSHA won’t inspect home offices or hold employers liable for
them, employers are still required to keep records of employee injuries
suffered at home. This means that, in the end, employers may still be found
liable for employee damage claims. 11 Try to mitigate these concerns by
requiring employees to bring in photos of their at-home workspace, and
provide them with ergonomically-friendly chairs, keyboards and mouse pads.

Once you’ve considered the “big five” above, we’d recommend a trial run. That’s exactly
what the City of Portland did when it began its program over ten years ago. For six

8 H
 ansen, Katharine. “Making Your Case for Telecommuting: How to Convince the Boss.” Quintessential Careers. 2004. 8
Dec. 2008 <http://www.quintcareers.com/printable/telecommuting_options.html>.
9 B
 arrett, Amy. “Making Telecommuting Work.” BusinessWeek. 17 Oct. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_70/s0810048750962.htm>.
10 Caldwell, Kelley. “Create a Telecommuting Strategy.” Monster.com: Career Advice. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://career-advice.monster.com/management-skills/human-resources/management/>.
11 Enbysk, Monte. “Make telecommuting work for your business.” Microsoft: Small Business. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/resources/management/pay-benefits/make-telecommuting-work-for-your-
business.aspx>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


months, 30 city employees participated in the telecommuting pilot. The result?

lue Paper
Happier employees, increased morale and a permanent telecommuting policy for
all city staff. 12

Telecommuting tech tools


One of the most vital assets to any telecommuting venture’s success is that of
technology. Without the right tools fostering communication and productivity amongst
in- and out-of-office workers, a telecommuting situation may go awry.

Here, we’ve outlined some of the best technology elements to infuse into any
teleworker’s at-home office. But, don’t take this list as the end-all, be-all of necessary
tech tools – your organization’s telecommuting technology should match your needs
and company culture first and foremost.

• The basics – At the very least, teleworkers’ home


offices should be outfitted with a computer,
printer, fax capability (either machine or Web-
based), scanner, copier, desk and mailing supplies,
according to The Washington Post online. 13
Also consider adding calendar sharing to the
teleworking basics package – it will allow for
streamlined appointment and meeting scheduling.

• Webcams – A useful tool for videoconferencing in
meetings, or just between one or two coworkers. They’re a great way to
keep relationships alive and well, too (a little “face time” never hurt!).
Many laptops come with webcams already built in, but you can also
purchase an external webcam. (Want to go even further? Try out LifeSize®
Express – it’s a hi-definition video conferencing system. Yes folks, HD is
everywhere these days!)

• Document collaboration – With the evolutions of the Internet, sharing


and collaborating on project documents has never been easier. Try out
Google™ Docs or Glance® – both of which allow users to check-out and
change documents in real time. Another great online collaboration tool is
Adobe® Acrobat® Connect™.

12 O
 regon Department of Energy. “City of Portland Gives Telecommuting a Thumbs Up Following a Six-Month Test.”
Oregon Government, Department of Energy. June 1996. <http://www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/TRANS/Telework/docs/
telepdx.pdf>
13 G
 oldberg, Gabe. “Tech That Makes Telecommuting Work.” The Washington Post. 01 June 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/31/>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


• Voice-over IP system and routers – These tools allow for teleworking

lue Paper
employees to take phone calls from clients by providing a single phone
number that “finds” them anywhere. Employees simply plug their phone
line into the router to receive calls. 14

• Instant messaging and Web-based chat – If you think that


constant phone calls may get in the way of organizational
productivity as a whole, try implementing a messenger system
to keep everyone connected. Go the program route with
applications such as Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant
Messenger (AIM®) or MSN® Messenger, or simply create a chat
room online on a company intranet or already-established
external chat site like Yahoo!® Messenger.

• Virtual private network (VPN) – We recommend setting up a VPN


if you have very independent workers – ones that are working
virtually most, if not all of the time, and will need consistent remote access
to the company network or files on the server. Contact your IT department
for details on how to set up a VPN or a remote desktop.

• USB desktops – This relatively new technology allows for users to transfer
full applications such as word processing or Web browsing onto a USB
drive for use at any location. 15 This is a great option for employees who
may be working on multiple computers virtually.

Telecommuting security 101


Now, before we tackle the issue of telecommuting from the employee’s point-of-view,
let’s review a telecommuting issue that both employers and employees need to be
aware of and plan for: security.

Although the chance of a security or privacy breach can be intimidating, have no


fear. There are plenty of tools to put in place that will mitigate these concerns,
putting telecommuters on the right side of the proverbial tracks. Plus, experts say
that telecommuting doesn’t really pose more risks than its in-office counterpart – just
different risks. 16

14 B arrett, Amy. “Making Telecommuting Work.” BusinessWeek. 17 Oct. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_70/s0810048750962.htm>.
15 Goldberg, Gabe. “Tech That Makes Telecommuting Work.” The Washington Post. 01 June 2008. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/31/>.
16 Messmer, Ellen. “Telecommuting Poses Security, Privacy Risks.” PC World. 31 July 2008. Network World. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/149200-1>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


Here, we’ve outlined the most common mistakes in establishing a telecommuting security

lue Paper
strategy, and how to diffuse them before they become a real security issue:

Common error 1: Not developing security guidelines for telecommuters at all.

This is more common than you might expect. According to a recent cross-industry
telecommuting risk report, only half of the 73 surveyed organizations have even
developed a telecommuting security policy as guidance to their out-of-office workers. 17
We recommend that your policy includes information and implementation tactics
surrounding:

1. Failed-logon lockout settings on computers


2. Privacy screens
3. Security cables for locking down computers
4. Periodic audits of telecommuters’ physical working environments
(only 20 percent of employers do this!) 18
5. Clean-desk guidelines for teleworkers

Common error 2: Blurring the lines between personal and work devices.

Again, almost half of all companies surveyed said that their teleworkers (both part- and
full-time) use their personally-owned computers, PDAs or other tools for work purposes. 19
This can pose serious security risks when confidential data is passed between unsecure
devices. Outline specifically in your teleworking guidelines how the use of personal devices
is to be handled. We recommend keeping them separate – it’s the safest way to ensure
data security and privacy.

Common error 3: Ignoring hard-copy documents and correspondence.

Only one-third of companies participating in the survey provide


their teleworkers with a shredder for print-outs, faxes and other
confidential documents. 20 Make sure that all telecommuters are outfitted
with the right equipment before they begin working out-of-office.

Common error 4: Not backing up your data.

This goes for both in- and out-of-office employees. If you’re backing up your company
data for in-office employees, make sure the same is happening with virtual workers. This

17-20 Messmer, Ellen. “Telecommuting Poses Security, Privacy Risks.” PC World. 31 July 2008. Network World. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/149200-1>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


can sometimes be overlooked if teleworkers are using personal computers or devices.

lue Paper
We recommend backing up through a third-party at a remote location, outside of your
organization, to lend to heightened security and safety.

Adding ‘Telecommuter’ to your business card


Now, let’s switch gears a bit to the employee side. How exactly do you become a
telecommuter?

One of your first thoughts when considering teleworking may be, “Does my job lend
well to the teleworking routine?” Most of the time, we’ve found that the answer
is “Yes.” Sometimes, all it takes is a little out-of-the-box thinking. For
example, take Hyatt™ Regency Santa Clara concierge Anna Mariano-Morris.
Yes, you read that correctly – the hotel’s main concierge actually works
virtually!

Mariano-Morris’ face is projected onto a plasma-screen TV in the hotel’s


lobby via a webcam in her home office. Everything else about her position
remains the same though, including her duties and hours. Her boss, hotel
General Manager Peter Rice, explains that it’s worked out beautifully, albeit
initial concerns.

“She’s a phenomenal concierge, and it doesn’t matter that she’s 85 miles


away,” he says. 21

As you can see from this example, nearly any job can be a telecommuting position.
Employees simply need to assess what portions (if not all) of their position can be
performed remotely to the same caliber (or better) as in-office.

With that in mind, it’s time to approach upper management with your request.

Start with the research


Your employer may already have a telecommuting program in place that you’re
unaware of. Investigate first, before approaching your employer with a
telecommuting request. We recommend starting with HR and going from there
in your search for answers.

If no such existing program turns up, your next stop should be the employee handbook
or your contract. Make sure there are no policies against telecommuting. In these

21 T
 ahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>.
© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
documents, you may also be able to find policies regarding flextime or similar options –

lue Paper
these are often times good signs that your company may be open to telecommuting.

Now, on to competitor research. Try looking into your organization’s competitors to see
if they offer any telecommuting options to employees. Also, find out if it’s a popular
option in your industry or in your geographic area. If you find any “yeses” here, add
them to your persuasion arsenal.

Finally, take a good hard look at yourself. Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and
associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, recommends taking a personal inventory
before addressing your superiors to gauge whether you’re the kind of employee who
will thrive in a telecommuting environment. If you can confidently identify with the
following traits, you’re probably a prime candidate 22:

• Self-disciplined
• Self-starter
• Independent performer
• Proven performer
• Organized
• Good time manager

And, the pitch…


Once you’ve done your research and assessments, it’s time to pitch your employer on
the idea of telecommuting. Many employers are nervous about the idea of letting
employees out of their sight completely, so you’ll need to structure your delivery in such
a way that is both strong and succinct, while still being empathetic and insightful. Try a
few of these tips on for size:

• Sweep in on two fronts: Rather than simply telling your boss why you
should be allowed to telecommute, write it down, too. Experts agree that
a comprehensive, balanced, written proposal paired with a strong oral
presentation is the best bet for success. 23

• It’s all about them: Although you may think that the option to
telecommute ultimately relates to your wants and needs, make sure
that your employer understands what’s in it for him or her. Focus on the
benefits the company will receive from you telecommuting, not your

22 H
 ansen, Katharine. “Making Your Case for Telecommuting: How to Convince the Boss.” Quintessential Careers. 2004.
8 Dec. 2008 <http://www.quintcareers.com/printable/telecommuting_options.html>.

23 H
 ansen, Katharine. “Making Your Case for Telecommuting: How to Convince the Boss.” Quintessential Careers. 2004.
8 Dec. 2008 <http://www.quintcareers.com/printable/telecommuting_options.html>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


personal benefits. Try weaving in professional benefits to you as well –

lue Paper
such as greater productivity and task efficiency due to less time spent
commuting or being interrupted by coworkers.

• Make a case for yourself as an employee: You’ve done the self-assessment


of traits that would make you a successful teleworker, so tout them!
Describe how you know you’ll be an effective teleworker through your
accomplishments, reliability and proven work record. Another key trait
to weave into your presentation may include the amount of time you’ve
worked with the company. This will indicate that you know your job well
enough to work independently from a remote location, without your
supervisor having to constantly check in or answer questions. 24

• Trial and error: If your employer isn’t biting


the idea to go all-out telecommuting as you
may wish, propose a trial period. Outline the
timeline of the trial period, how goals and
productivity will be measured, and how your
employer can reach you. Plus, the number of
full-time telecommuters in the United States
is significantly less than part-time 25, so by
starting small you may be heightening your
chance of victory.

• Get tech-y: Finally, your superiors need to know what telecommuting


takes – technology-wise – for it to work. Address what equipment you’ll
need, who will cover what costs and how security issues will be handled.
Use our previously outlined list in this Blue PaperSM as a starting point.

In the end, the telecommuting choice for employees and employers alike rests on
“fit” – fit within an organization, and a personal fit. Some company cultures easily lend
to the idea of teleworkers, while others may not. On a similar note, some teleworkers’
personal traits may lend well to working virtually, while others are better suited for an
office environment.

But, the point is, you never know until you try! Consider teleworking a viable option to
flextime today, and you may be surprised at how easy the transition is, as well as how
many benefits there truly are to be reaped.

24 L orenz, Kate. “Telecommuting 101.” Careerbuilder.com. 22 Feb. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008


<http://www.careerbuilder.com/article/cb-616-getting-ahead-telecommuting-101/>.
25 Messmer, Ellen. “Telecommuting Poses Security, Privacy Risks.” PC World. 31 July 2008. Network World. 08 Dec. 2008
<http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/149200-1>.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved


lue Paper
4imprint serves more than 100,000 businesses with innovative promotional items throughout the United States,
Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. Its product offerings include giveaways, business gifts, personalized gifts,
embroidered apparel, promotional pens, travel mugs, tote bags, water bottles, Post-it Notes, custom calendars,
and many other promotional items. For additional information, log on to www.4imprint.com.

© 2009 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved