Getting Clueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting

IT workers who telecommute share advice for their bosses about the process, technology, and attitudes necessary for staff to be productive when they work from home.

By Esther Schindler
Wed, May 09, 2007

CIO — Telecommuting provides employees with the flexibility and quiet they need to optimize their productivity. Plus, it offers employers opportunities to save money and recruit workers from a more geographically diverse—and potentially cheaper—talent pool. For IT professionals, telecommuting is certainly the best work/life option.

However, working from home isn't always easy for individuals or employers. For telecommuting arrangements to work for both parties, employees need to be self-motivated, have access to the necessary technology (such as a high-speed Internet connection and a VPN), and clearly define job duties that can be accomplished remotely. At the same time, employers need to make their teleworkers feel like they're a part of the team, integrate telecommuters into workflows and judge employee productivity by results rather than visual cues.

But too often, IT management doesn't understand the key issues that can affect productivity and team morale. Managers can make painful and expensive errors even when their hearts are in the right place. If you get telecommuting right, you'll have a crew of independent technologists who get their jobs done efficiently; if not, you'll create dissension, distrust and workflow confusion.

You don't have to repeat others' expensive mistakes. In this article, CIO.com presents input that several telecommuting IT professionals shared via e-mail about the benefits the practice brings to the enterprise, processes that help remote workers interact with other team members, and the irritations that twist telecommuters' shorts in a knot. Here's what your employees truly want you to know about telecommuting.

Telecommuters also need to adopt techniques for working at home, both to keep their sanity and to move their career along. See the accompanying article, Telecommuters Need to Develop Special Skills, for guidance on that subject.

1. Telecommuting Saves Money. Truly.
Companies have the potential to benefit financially in a number of ways from supporting telecommuters. First, fewer people in the corporate office means companies save money on such expenses as rent, furniture and facilities maintenance.

Second, companies open to hiring remote workers benefit from wider—and potentially cheaper—pools of applicants. They can hire qualified workers without regard to their geographic location. For example, a San Francisco Bay-area company can find a top-notch programmer to telecommute from Oklahoma for far less than the company would pay a local developer confronting Bay-area housing costs.

This "more diverse pool of applicants" includes disabled citizens, 70 percent of whom are unemployed, primarily due to the lack of accessible transportation to the workplace, especially in rural areas, according to Ed Dodds, a systems architecture consultant, who telecommutes for several different companies that have retained his services. "Working from home offices outfitted with assistive technologies via broadband and VPN 'virtually' eliminates this barrier," he says.

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