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Telecommuting When to Offer the Opportunity

March 1, 1997
Related Topics: Telecommuting, Featured Article
The Dilemma:
You’ve had success with local telecommuters. Now, Scott—an employee moving across country because of his spouse’s job relocation—has asked to stay on as a long-distance telecommuter. The trouble is you aren’t sure Scott has the self-discipline to perform independently. Since you’ve already set the precedent of offering telecommuting arrangements, how do you respond to his request?

Readers Respond:
Scott’s self-discipline is the key issue here. An employee who performs at an average level in the work environment may blossom as a telecommuter. I would talk to Scott’s managers to see what their perceptions are. I would talk to Scott to let him know of the existing concerns. Then I would suggest allowing Scott to perform as a telecommuter, letting him know he’ll be monitored for deadlines, follow-up and communication with his supervisor for the first three months. With increased awareness on both sides, this should turn out to be a mutually beneficial work relationship.
Lissa Muse
HR Manager
National TechTeam
Dallas, Texas

What’s offered to some should be offered to all. An employee should be dealt with just as if he or she is a business partner, a customer or a vendor. Professionalism and respect need to be emphasized. An employee should be given just as much of an opportunity as a new hire. Outline the expectations and evaluate performance regularly. If the self-discipline problem is evident at the time of review, let Scott know and schedule another review. Always allow people to show you their best effort.
Eric Ehrhardt
HR Director
Imperial Food Services Inc.
South Elgin, Illinois

Before Scott moves across country, allow him—on a trial basis—to work as a full-time telecommuter from his current (local) home. Inform him upfront that this trial basis doesn’t constitute approval. Conduct regular performance evaluations throughout the trial period. If he doesn’t perform up to the established standards, you have the basis to deny his request. If he does perform well, grant his request consistent with the precedent at your company.

Even if he’s approved, continue to evaluate his performance to be sure the trial period wasn’t just a show to get quick approval. This practice subsequently should be consistent with all employees with similar requests, even the ones whose self-discipline isn’t questionable.
Mavis Smith
Human Resource Assistant
Kasie Steel Corp.
Dearborn, Michigan

I faced a similar situation. In our case, the employee was key to the organization. As a result, I decided to set up a three-month trial period. During the first month it was critical to keep an open mind as we both needed to work around initial challenges. It turned out that we retained a valuable employee and realized new business opportunities in his geographical region. For us, the bottom line had to be a win-win situation for the company and the employee.
Michael D. Bovaird
Manager of Human Resources
SABRE Canada
North York, Ontario

This situation brings up questions that need to be answered. Telecommuting usually means using fax machines and telephones, as well as the Internet. How much contact does Scott need to have with local clients or vendors? How much need is there to fax documents back and forth? How much will this cost? Offer a trial period if it’s economically feasible. But if the costs involved are more than the value of the option, then Scott will have to look for work in his new locale.
Max Wagoner
Professional HR Generalist
Cypress, California

I would say you don’t necessarily have to offer this option to Scott. But first, look back at the performance of those you have transferred. Consider the performance of Scott currently and also any discussions his manager may have had with him. If his performance is only so-so, but no one ever brought it up, then you should offer the option and monitor his performance diligently (and monitor everyone else’s equally). If Scott has had performance discussions recently, then I wouldn’t offer the transfer (assuming those who have transferred had good performance). I’d explain to him that to qualify for a transfer, performance must be satisfactory.

Second, you should set some standards for a person to qualify for this arrangement. For instance, performance must be at X level. This should save this type of headache in the future. And, of course, communicate, so employees understand the standard.
Brook A. Carlon
HR Programs Manager
Technology Service Solutions
Austin, Texas

Workforce, April 1997, Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 105-106.

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