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Dear Workforce How Do We Determine Which Employees Are Suitable Candidates for Telecommuting?

Dear Keeping Tabs:

My first response, though tongue-in-cheek, is that there always has been (and always will be) an incredible amount of time abuse by employees within offices. Anyone who thinks that employees in an office aren’t surfing the Web, running sports pools or doing worse things lives in a fantasy world. I mention this only to point out that it is unfair and not sensible to hold telecommuting employees to a higher standard than those who work in offices.

That said, I’ll concede that the risk of “time fraud” while working from home tends be to greater than in the office. But the very wording of the term underscores the nature of the problem: Are we paying workers for time spent or results produced? There certainly are some jobs, both in the office and at home, where time spent equates to results produced, such as people handling inbound customer service calls, processing claims forms or doing other tasks where a unit of work equates to a unit of time and vice versa. Still, the majority of telecommuting tasks are higher up on the knowledge-work scale, and what really counts in those jobs is the deliverable.

If, for example, a financial analyst has to prepare a budget according to certain criteria, and it must be submitted to the boss by noon on Friday, then it doesn’t make much difference if the analyst takes some time on Wednesday or Thursday to run an errand, do a load of laundry, exercise or even take a nap. As long as the work is done on time and according to specifications, and as long as he or she meets whatever commitments have been made about accessibility (response time on e-mails and voice mail, attending staff meetings/conference calls, etc.), those private errands really don’t matter.

One last point: People being considered for telecommuting assignments should be screened by management in the same way as those being considered for any other assignment: Compare their past work performance with job requirements. An employee who has missed deadlines in the office, takes long lunches or otherwise is known to abuse the trust placed in him while in the office isn’t going to be a good candidate for telecommuting.

SOURCE: Gil Gordon, Gil Gordon Associates, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, April 14, 2006.

LEARN MORE: The Invisible Factors of Telecommuting discusses how to manage telecommuters and ensure that their work meets company standards.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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