As gasoline prices rise, so does the appeal of telecommuting. But entrepreneurs should think twice before offering employees a tele-commuting option.
Telework gets popular whenever getting to work becomes a challenge, says Gil Gordon, a telecommuting consultant in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. "It can be anywhere from something as dramatic as the World Trade Center [tragedy] to highway construction," Gordon says.
If you already employ workplace policies like flextime, telework may fit in well. Telecommuting often works for companies with high-value key workers, says Gordon. It may be less successful for entrepreneurs whose businesses require face-to-face meetings, or who aren't comfortable having employees out of sight.
Make sure you aren't opening up technical vulnerabilities. Always-on broadband internet connections and wireless networks in teleworker homes make company computers more vulnerable. "A broadband connection becomes like a node inside your network," says Wei Lu, founder of Austin, Texas, network security company Permeo Technologies. VPNs and data encryption can solve security problems.
Vanpools and carpools can also help employees cut the cost of commuting. Using a company vehicle to shuttle employees to and from bus or rail hubs can make mass transit an affordable and convenient part of their daily commute. If your business allows it, a four-day workweek cuts each individual worker's commute cost by 20 percent.
If you give telecommuting a try, don't predicate the policy on continually rising gas prices. Do it for long-term reasons such as improving productivity, extending customer hours or boosting employee retention. And if you're leaning toward trying telework, this is the time. "The price of gas," says Gordon, "is a perfect excuse to do what you're thinking about anyhow."