From the January 2002 issue of Startups

Things are going well for your homebased business. So well, in fact, that you've decided to hire your first employee. But you like working from home, so you've decided to allow them to do the same. Before you do, make sure you're only hiring employees capable of handling the responsibilities of working from home. There are many things to consider, and job fulfillment is just the beginning--make sure you're ready to handle the costs involved, too.

But working from home is supposed to be cheaper, right? Well, you won't have to pay an office lease, but you'll still have to equip an office. For Lisa Wilson, founder and CEO of VisiTech PR in Denver, whose eight employees work from their homes, the process of finding the right employees hasn't been easy, nor has it been cheap. After leaving a traditional office-based high-tech PR firm to start her own firm in 1998, Wilson decided she would only hire people with eight to 10 years of experience in the high-tech PR niche, counting on their experience and maturity to ensure that they would be working when they were supposed to. Even though Wilson is not paying the lease on an office, she figures her costs are about the same because she provides all her employees with individual office furniture and equipment, phone lines and high-speed Internet access as well as a budget for office supplies. Plus, because her employees have more experience, she also pays higher salaries and offers competitive benefits. And even though all but one of her employees is within a 30-minute drive from Wilson's home office, providing IT support can also be an issue since not everyone is in one place.

So before you start establishing "satellite" home offices, think about what systems you'll have to implement to keep in contact with your employees, including how employees will access vital company documents, whether it be through a hosted computing company or via a company intranet. Wilson keeps templates, calendars and other crucial documents online (using Intranets.com) so that all her employees have access to them. Providing IT support for the inevitable system crashes or for when the next e-mail virus hits is crucial as well; VisiTech employs independent tech consultants as needed.

So what makes the ideal work-at-home employee? "You have to have someone who is self-motivated, experienced, and you can't really have employees who need heavy amounts of training," says Wilson. "Some people I've interviewed didn't want to work at home--they weren't sure they could motivate themselves. And if they say that, they're probably right."

For Wilson, it all comes down to results-based management. VisiTech PR employees work in teams and sign off on goals they will accomplish each month. And because they bill by the amount of hours it takes to fulfill certain jobs, each hour of work is accounted for. By letting employees know what's expected of them, they're held accountable for the tasks they're required to complete.

The expectations that Wilson has set for her employees may be helpful to keep in mind: All employees are expected to be at home, working diligently and available to each other and to clients via telephone during regular work hours, and they must have a separate room they can use as a home office. They are also discouraged from running errands or taking care of children during work hours.