Going Virtual: The Telecommumuting Revolution


The Telecommuting Revolution
nearly 40 percent of IBM’s workers?

What do more than half of Sun Microsystems’ employees have in common with

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! 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 happiness, positive environmental impact (less CO2 emissions), and greater productivity due to less commute and interruption time.

operating and commercial real estate costs, increased quality of life and employee

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 Cooney, Michael. “Telecommute: Kill a career?” Network World. 17 Jan. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008 <http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/011707-telecommute-career.html>. 2 Tahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008 <http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>. 3 Koerner, 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 Barrett, Amy. “Making Telecommuting Work.” BusinessWeek. 17 Oct. 2008. 08 Dec. 2008 <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_70/s0810048750962.htm>.
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Going Virtual:

• • • •

Generation X and Y whose lifestyles aren’t accustomed to the cubicle building accommodations difficult to manage 5 Disabled employees who may find public transportation or workplace

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

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 be prepared.

employees will be (or, already have) requesting the ability to telework, you’ll want to

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 (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. implemented. Then, the policy itself should be rooted in the following elements

5 Tahmincioglu, 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>.
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Feasibility – Think about what positions lend well to teleworking, and 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 periods of concentration will yield well to a telecommuter work style. 9

In addition, jobs that don’t absolutely require face time or involve longer

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 liable for employee damage claims. 11 Try to mitigate these concerns by

suffered at home. This means that, in the end, employers may still be found 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 Hansen, 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 Barrett, 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-yourbusiness.aspx>.
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months, 30 city employees participated in the telecommuting pilot. The result? Happier employees, increased morale and a permanent telecommuting policy for all city staff.

Telecommuting tech tools

One of the most vital assets to any telecommuting venture’s success is that of in- and out-of-office workers, a telecommuting situation may go awry.

technology. Without the right tools fostering communication and productivity amongst

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. • T  hebasics – At the very least, teleworkers’ home offices should be outfitted with a computer, printer, fax capability (either machine or Webbased), 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!) •

D  ocumentcollaboration – 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 Adobe® Acrobat® Connect™.

change documents in real time. Another great online collaboration tool is

12 Oregon 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 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/>.
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employees to take phone calls from clients by providing a single phone line into the router to receive calls. 14 • I nstantmessagingandWeb-basedchat – If you think that constant phone calls may get in the way of organizational to keep everyone connected. Go the program route with applications such as Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant room online on a company intranet or already-established external chat site like Yahoo!® Messenger. •

number that “finds” them anywhere. Employees simply plug their phone

productivity as a whole, try implementing a messenger system

Messenger (AIM®) or MSN® Messenger, or simply create a chat

Virtualprivatenetwork(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. •

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

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 different risks. 16

that telecommuting doesn’t really pose more risks than its in-office counterpart – just

14 Barrett, 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>.
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Voice-overIPsystemandrouters – These tools allow for teleworking

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

Commonerror1: 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. 2. 3. 4. 5. Failed-logon lockout settings on computers Privacy screens Security cables for locking down computers (only 20 percent of employers do this!) 18 Clean-desk guidelines for teleworkers

Periodic audits of telecommuters’ physical working environments

Commonerror2: Blurring the lines between personal and work devices.

Again, almost half of all companies surveyed said that their teleworkers (both part- and This can pose serious security risks when confidential data is passed between unsecure

full-time) use their personally-owned computers, PDAs or other tools for work purposes. 19

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. Commonerror3: 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. Commonerror4: 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>.

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

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

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 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 initial concerns. “She’s a phenomenal concierge, and it doesn’t matter that she’s 85 miles away,” he says. 21 example, take Hyatt™ Regency Santa Clara concierge Anna Mariano-Morris.

General Manager Peter Rice, explains that it’s worked out beautifully, albeit

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
unaware of. Investigate first, before approaching your employer with a in your search for answers.

Your employer may already have a telecommuting program in place that you’re telecommuting request. We recommend starting with HR and going from there

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 Tahmincioglu, Eve. “The quiet revolution: telecommuting.” MSNBC.com. 05 Oct. 2007. 08 Dec. 2008 <http://www.msnbc.com/id/20281475>.
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documents, you may also be able to find policies regarding flextime or similar options – 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: •

Sweepinontwofronts: 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 •

I t’sallaboutthem: 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 Hansen, 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 Hansen, 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>.
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personal benefits. Try weaving in professional benefits to you as well – such as greater productivity and task efficiency due to less time spent commuting or being interrupted by coworkers. •

M  akeacaseforyourselfasanemployee: 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 enough to work independently from a remote location, without your supervisor having to constantly check in or answer questions. 24 • T  rialanderror: 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. •

worked with the company. This will indicate that you know your job well

Gettech-y: Finally, your superiors need to know what telecommuting

takes – technology-wise – for it to work. Address what equipment you’ll 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

need, who will cover what costs and how security issues will be handled.

“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’ office environment. personal traits may lend well to working virtually, while others are better suited for an

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 Lorenz, 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>.

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