THE BLOG
11/02/2012 04:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 02, 2013

Making Telecommuting a Success Year Round

As millions learned in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the show must go on for businesses. Those fortunate to keep power were able to continue working from their homes and those without got crafty with Smart Phones and iPads. Even as the lights come back on, employees who rely on public transportation are forced to stay home or suffer through a 30-minute-turned-three-hour commute. That's an awful lot of time being wasted commuting when it could be used to work from home.

Kathleen Reynolds, manager of client services at lower-Manhattan-based CooperKatz & Co. is working from home while her company waits for power to be restored. Although the company didn't have a formal telecommuting plan in place, Reynolds says they were able to take precautions to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, like collecting employees' personal email addresses, which became necessary when the office servers went down, and utilizing their employee contact grid with addresses, phone numbers, etc. Now, says Reynolds, "We are looking into additional technology solutions to ensure connectivity in future emergency situations."

Implementing a telecommuting plan is much easier than many businesses have yet to realize. In fact, for the majority of jobs that are accomplished with a computer, the reasons for not allowing them are only a matter of a mind shift and understanding that the position can be done from home and productively.

A Plan to Measure Productivity

For starters, managers need to evaluate how they measure productivity now. Is it simply by employees' presence? Just do a quick Facebook scan to know that even those who are in the office aren't necessarily doing their jobs, but rather updating their statuses. At the end of the day, face time is not an indication that the tasks at hand are being accomplished. The work speaks for itself no matter the location it's being completed.

As she works from home, Reynolds says her productivity is being tracked as usual. "Fortunately, my employer and clients are very understanding of the circumstances. We are able to track that time that we are able to work through our normal time-sheet recording - an online system."

Best Approaches to Communicate
Once a plan is in place for measuring accomplishments, decide the best approach for communication. Is swinging by a person's cube more effective than picking up the phone, IM or email? Or, in reality, is that actually taking up more time? According to a survey done by my company, FlexJobs, 82% of respondents actually preferred to work from home to avoid such distractions by colleagues.

In the case of Hurricane Sandy, Reynolds has been in regular contact with her colleagues since starting to work from home. "CooperKatz's senior executive team has been incredibly proactive and supportive -- calling, texting and emailing all employees. I've heard from supervisors and colleagues several times throughout each day (starting before the storm hit)," says Reynolds.

Do you actually need to be face-to-face with your colleagues to communicate? If you answer that it's not necessary to be working together in person, then setting up a remote work option for employees is possible. In fact, even for meetings, there are a variety of options, including Skype, JoinMe, GoTo Meeting and more.

Getting Systems in Place
With your strategies in place to measure productivity and to stay abreast of communication, a third step is to check with your IT department and discuss any potential issues that may arise. Once they are prepared for any potential hiccups, the final step is giving your new arrangement a try!

Final Steps
Talk it over with employees and see who would like to work from home, even if just a day or two week. Have them try it out and discuss together how to measure productivity. You may find that some workers enjoy working from home every day, while many others still want to be in the office regularly. In fact, with 15-20 million workers currently splitting their time between working in the office and working remotely, this is most common telecommuting arrangement in the U.S.

The key to a successful year-round telecommuting program is to build it to fit your company and test out different home-working arrangements before committing to any one plan. Whether you are offering full telecommuting, or working from home during emergencies and other unique occasions, it's an option with a lot of benefits for employers and employees alike.

Even if companies allowed the option to work from home one or two days a week year-round, commuter congestion would be reduced by 20-40%. And when the next storm hits, an established plan would already be in place with the necessary tools, for example, file sharing and even meetings from your platform of choice already purchased to make that happen. In other words, the show would go on... and smoothly despite what may be happening outdoors.