How to Best Manage Telecommuting

If you have remote staff, or are considering a revised telecommuting policy, this column is for you. I have had the pleasure and pain of being on both ends here–as an employee and employer.

Done right, telecommuting can be a real morale and productivity booster. Done wrong, it can be a major disaster. I once had an employee running a lobbying group out of his home office.

That wasn’t pretty.

Many companies just say by fiat that they don’t support remote workers. And you might not be able to change that. But if you are willing to take the time, it could be a win-win situation for everyone.

Here are Strom’s 10 rules of telecommuting, split almost evenly between social and technical issues.

1. Agree to set working hours, with some flexibility.

Just because someone is working from home doesn’t mean that they can come and go at their whim. But it doesn’t mean that they have to punch a clock either. Put together some guidelines and make sure everyone knows what is acceptable, and what isn’t.

Be reasonable here. People are going to put in way more hours than they would if they were commuting to the office, so encourage them if they want to leave during the middle of the day to pick up their dry cleaning or work out at the gym. I had some people that were more productive on the night shift and wanted to be off during most of the daylight hours. That is fine, as long as you both understand what is involved.

2. Take every opportunity to meet face-to-face with your staff when you travel.

Often, out of sight is out of mind. I know that when I worked remotely, I really appreciated a face-to-face meeting with the boss when he was in town. Go out of your way to do this whenever possible, it brings an immense amount of goodwill.

3. Have a weekly group teleconference that lasts no more than 30 minutes. 

This is great for team building and morale, but only if it is short and sweet. Make sure that you start the meeting on time and that you give it your priority. Use it as a status update on projects, to praise superior performance and to delegate who will take on unresolved issues.

Don’t use it as a bull session, although there is nothing wrong with a little socializing. And make it a “hard stop” at 30 minutes. At one job, our weekly call was scheduled for 2 p.m. on a Friday. That was everyone’s most hated meeting. Monday mornings are better.