HR Leads Business

Sep 18, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, aPHR, HRCI Staff Writer

Several Companies Jump Off the Telecommuting Bandwagon. Should You?

Several prominent companies have recently reigned in their telecommuting options for employees. It was one of Marissa Mayer’s first moves as CEO of Yahoo! In May, IBM told thousands of employees to report to offices or leave the company. Bank of America, Aetna, Reddit and Best Buy are also pulling back.

Is this a trend or a recipe for lower employee engagement and productivity?

Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, an HR and management consultant at epocHResources, and author of A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge™ (HRBoK™), recently sat down with HR Leads Business to answer questions and provide some tips for companies to make telecommuting a strategic business advantage.

HR Leads Business: What do you think about this trend? Is telecommuting a bad human resource management practice?

Reed: Not necessarily. You really have to know what each company is trying to accomplish. For IBM and Yahoo!, for example, the issues may be less about the existence of a telecommuting workforce and more about the management of work structures. It’s helpful to analyze such decisions by looking at companies moving in the opposite direction.

Amazon, for example, recently announced the addition of 5,000 part-time work-from-home jobs that include full benefits. This business strategy will give the company access to an often-under-employed workforce such as military spouses. Strategically, people who want to work from home may be willing to trade salary for flexibility, allowing Amazon to compete with a cost leadership giant such as Walmart by reducing overhead costs from salaries and facilities — two buckets that can really affect company cash flow.

HR Leads Business: So, you think telecommuting will continue to thrive?

Reed: Yes, because the future employee is being groomed for telework at a young age. Elementary school children are producing work on Chromebooks. College students are completing team assignments online. Companies that work to create an effective virtual employee environment will soon have a workforce that has been conditioned to perform remotely.

HR Leads Business: What steps do you recommend for a company that wants to implement a telecommuting policy?

Reed: The priority for any employer seeking to implement a telecommuting policy is to first identify strategic objectives. For example, is the company considering a flex work arrangement because of a talent shortage in a geographic location? This is the case for many Silicon Valley companies, where housing costs are significant barriers to accessing top talent. For companies that seek to build a culture of trust and care of employees, telecommuting may offer a solution to a workforce craving — and demanding — work/life balance. The rise of global commerce is another ongoing factor prompting employers to look to alternative work arrangements as a legitimate business strategy. Start with the end in mind to define the business needs.

The second step is to conduct thorough job analyses of the potential telecommuting jobs. HR will need to lead the effort to identify what components of a job may be completed remotely, and what tasks or responsibilities for geographic proximity are essential. In this way, the company can build in flexible elements — where possible — and define other expectations such as off-site and hybrid schedules, quarterly on-site meetings at headquarters or weekly online meetings with direct supervisors. This step will establish job needs and contribute to the build-out of a sustainable telecommuting program.

The third step includes designing a selection process to establish criteria for which employees should have the telecommuting option. Both existing workers and future hires should be considered. This step establishes the people criteria that bridges the gap between business needs and job needs identified in the first two steps.

HR Leads Business: What are some tools and strategies that will help integrate remote workers?

Reed: Any technology-based solution such as Slack or Samepage are based on project management best practices, so remote workers should also be proficient project managers (see collaboration software comparison on Remote worker must also have highly developed communication skills, be well-organized and have the ability to ask good questions to intuitively understand and meet both the urgent and non-urgent needs of internal customers and project teams.

Employee engagement is the key to any HR or business initiative, and that is true for remote structures as well. Keeping employees engaged, productive and satisfied should be baked into every company strategy. Here, again, is where HR can provide value by having career paths identified for all roles within the organization.

Remote employees should be able to see how their roles may evolve, including if a promotion means they would be required to return to a traditional on-site schedule. A well-organized HR department will use career paths as a springboard for ongoing development conversations with employees.