Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Building a Culture of Telecommuting

Stella has mentioned this before but it bears repeating: a successful telecommuting program must be...

- Championed by powerful and influential leaders
- Company-wide
- Easily joined
- Quantitatively measured and analyzed
- Talked about

Let's take these factors in turn, shall we?

Getting your manager on your side is obviously important, as you won't be doing much work from home without his or her say so. But moving up the management food chain as far as is humanly possible (preferably to the C-level) is vital. Get the CIO to love telecommuting too. After all, everyone benefits when the server lad and/or lady can connect from wherever they may be to recover from unexpected ghosts in the machines. The fact that you use the same technology to work all day, every day, can be secondary to their desires for 99.99999% uptime (or at least nobody noticing downtime).

Oh, and make sure it's not just the lazy bozos who embrace telecommuting. Find ass-kicking departments that everyone wants to be like and get them on board.

Related to building enthusiasm at the highest possible level for telecommuting is the need to spread the joy of telecommuting far and wide within the organization. The more people who are doing it well, the better. Help your customers do it, too. Getting a wide variety of people up and running with an inexpensive webcam and a low-cost teleconferencing program is just so important. It widens your circle of "who it's easy to work with" and increases the likelihood that someone knows someone who is telecommuting. Then you're not such a freak and this style of working becomes part of the normal ways we do things around here.

Telecommuting is a privilege not a right, but it shouldn't be so elite that almost nobody can do it (see above). There should be certain hurdles to jump over (employee in good standing, detailed proposal explaining how the work will actually get done, agreement from manager) but after that, you should be able to just show up at IT and pick up a camera, instructions for using the VPN, and a pair of slippers. Of course, if you're in the vanguard of telecommuters at your company, you'll have to be the guinea pig for this, squeaking wildly as you work through issues with the firewall and what not. But once you get it all working, write a manual on how to make it work and hand it to those who come after you.

Before you roll out telecommuting to too many parts of the organization, it's important that you have a plan in place for measuring outcomes. Certainly every telecommuter should have measures about his actual work in place with his manager, and someone should check up on them to make sure they are having their manager-managee updates and that expectations are met. But you may also want to quantify who is logging into the VPN for how many hours a week, how many person-days are being worked offsite, number of meetings logged in your online meeting center, and so on. Figure out which metrics are important to you before you get started so you're sure to be measuring the stuff you care about, the stuff that will tell you whether or not your telecommuting program is working.

Finally, what's the point of having all this great data and all this work being done by happy employees unless you spread the word. Too often, people are afraid to talk about their telecommuting programs for fear that everyone will want to do it, or fear of people finding out that folks are goofing off in slippers or whatever. But you're running a great program with lots of proof that it works so make sure people know about it. Company newsletter, blog, website, anywhere you can do it you should be pitching stories about how awesomely telecommuting is going at your fine establishment.

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