Fitting In

Phoning Home: Telecommuting Employees

Thanks to today's advanced technology, Jennifer Rudig's employees can telecommute, leaving her the freedom of having a more private homebased office. "Using the Internet, we manage to stay connected while being in different places," says Rudig, who owns Pillar Applications Group in Minneapolis, an information management company that has annual sales of close to $300,000. "Having our employees telecommute from home most of the time naturally works for us-probably better than any other scenario," she says.

Rudig has two offices in her home. One is downstairs and is used to house computer systems, and her employees work there when they come in one to two days each week. The other is Rudig's personal office, which is located upstairs next to the children's rooms. She and her husband have five children.

"One of the biggest benefits of this set-up is it's cheaper overall for both the business and me," says Rudig. "I not only save on child-care costs, the business also saves a great deal on overhead. My employees work at home in their own office space, and we give them a monthly stipend to upgrade their systems."

Rudig has found that employees are very satisfied with the working arrangement. "They're really happy because they're able to create their own daily schedule," she says. "One of our employees does his best work from eight at night to two in the morning, and he can do that from his home office."

For Rudig, the biggest challenge of a telecommuting work situation is trust. "It's difficult to take the first step and hire people, and you're never going to feel 100 percent sure about someone," she says. "[I've found that] the best approach is to explain what I need from the employees, make it clear how they'll be judged on their work, and then make it obvious that I'm trusting them to follow through." Before hiring anyone, Rudig goes through an extensive process that involves several interviews in various settings. Inevitably, however, she has to test the person's skills in a work situation. "It all comes out in the wash when we hear if the clients are happy and if the projects are working correctly and being done on time," she says.

To keep employees on track, Rudig will regularly ask for an accounting from her workers. "I'll ask to see how far they've gotten on a project," she says. "If they go beyond what I asked them to do, then I'll reward their accomplishments."

Depending on the industry, telecommuting can work very well, says Lewis. "Some businesses don't require that much supervision. People are often paid on how much work they've done. It also depends on the employee. Some are self starters who can regulate themselves and their workloads, while others have a more difficult time doing that."

Is a telecommuting situation right for you and your business? Find out by answering these questions:

  • Do you have the latest technology available to your employees so they can efficiently work from home?
  • Does your business lend itself to telecommuting? Are the jobs realistically completed on a solo basis?
  • Can you effectively supervise workers when they're in their own office? Do you have a way of checking their work and progress?
  • Do you have a work site in your home office that employees can use when the need arises?
  • Can you be on-call to answer employee questions?
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