November 24, 2022

Small Business Advice

Telecommuting, an Answer to Gas Crisis

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/30/2008

We have too many people who live without working, and we have altogether too many who work without living.
— Charles R. Brown

With gasoline approaching $5 a gallon, each business owner must be aware of how this high-priced resource is affecting both the firm and the staff. So many low-end workers were forced to move away from city centers in pursuit of more affordable land, and now they cannot afford the cost of transportation to work. This is especially true of part-time workers, who will have a difficult time justifying going to work with these high fuel costs.

One answer to this dilemma is telecommuting. An employee who telecommutes works from home rather than going into the office. Not only is telecommuting a way to help with the energy crisis, it also reduces traffic on our roadways, improves work-life balance and increases worker productivity.

Clearly there are many benefits of telecommuting, but there are also some pitfalls. For instance, telecommuting is just not viable for all jobs: some workers, such as bank tellers, just cannot work from home. However, a financial analyst for a bank who looks at financial statements all day would be an ideal candidate for telecommuting.

Jobs that are suitable for telecommuting require very little face to face interaction and minimal management. However, with technology, live conferences can be had wherever staff members are located.

Another pitfall is the security necessary to allow a staff member to retrieve information from home. Transmitting information wirelessly outside of the business is a very risky thing, even with encryption software. TJ Max had over 40 million credit card transactions stolen this way. A security policy must be established to ensure safety of all company data.

Once a security policy is put into place, a training session must be given, and all telecommuters must attend. An especially important piece of information that should be covered at this session is who to contact about problems communicating with the office or other technology related questions.

A critical piece of operating a successful telecommuting program is ensuring that performance measures are in place. You must be able to evaluate if this new process is working for your company, as well as if it is benefiting the employee. Having specific measures in place ensures that the employee clearly understands the expectations of this new work environment. Additionally, having each employee come to the office once a week for a meeting update is so important to insure that they continue to feel as they are part of the company.

Some additional problem areas to watch for are not being able to get hold of an employee, reduced work product and not accessing the company’s computer enough. Every manager that has implemented telecommuting with their staff just knows when a worker is not performing. If a worker cannot hack this type of job assignment, they clearly need to be brought back into the office.

I think it is paramount that each business looks into the viability of allowing workers to telecommute. Once you have identified positions that are feasible for telecommuting, you must develop an implementation plan. When launching a telecommuting program, start small. A slow deployment of telecommuting workers — one or two initially - will allow you to see if this type of work environment will be functional for your company. Once you know that telecommuting is working well for these employees, you can gradually expand the program to include more of your staff.

Now go out and see if any of your positions are amenable to telecommuting.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at jostery@comcast.net or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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