August 20, 2018

Perhaps you’ve walked into the office recently to find that a top performing employee wants to work from home or the perfect applicant will take the job only if you allow telecommuting. Unless your company has been preparing for these issues for several months, you may have a problem accommodating these requests.

Technology InsightsThree Telecommuting Essentials

  • Hardware: Possibly laptops with as many communications options as you can afford.
  • Infrastructure: Access, authentication and VPNs. This is easier to describe than to do, because there are lots of moving parts that can be easily misconfigured.
  • Applications: Access to the same material from home as at the office, including corporate information and centrally stored applications.

Telecommuting is on the rise, but many businesses are unprepared to offer it. Part of the reason is cost: In some cases, telecommuting can save money, but in other situations, the expenses involved in setting up home offices can be downright scary.

That doesn’t mean that thousands of businesses are losing their shirts by allowing telecommuting. But it does mean that to support home workers effectively, you need to choose the right equipment, telecommunication services and software applications.

Before jumping onboard, decide if you are comfortable with a job being handled on a telecommuting basis. Obviously, if an employee meets with customers in the office all day long, it is impossible to telecommute full time.

But many jobs can be done efficiently from home and companies often find that their telecommuting employees are more productive.

You also have to decide whether telecommuting is a perk or a necessity for your employees. Both definitions are somewhat porous. Here are three common scenarios.

  • You have the chance to hire away a top recruit from a competing firm. Unfortunately, this person is based in a different city with three kids in school, a spouse with a successful career, grandparents living next door, and a dry dock on the lake. In other words, moving for the job is out of question. But the position could be handled by a telecommuter. You hire the candidate, who then gets to have a home office as a perk. Approach it as any other piece of your bonus package, such as a 401(k) plan or dental insurance.
  • Suppose you need to add an employee but there’s no more room in the office. You need to hire someone to telecommute, so the set-up is a necessity.
  • Your best salesperson is on the road 250 days a year. To close so many sales, this employee has a mobile phone attached at the hip and a trusty laptop full of spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Can you ask for more? Yes! If you find a way to give top sales people wireless broadband, live access to inventory, and a faster machine that can do more, sales figures are almost certain to go up. While mobile employees like this are not telecommuters, they need access to the same in-house data as colleagues working at home.
    So what do you need to handle these employees in terms of equipment? It depends on the job, of course, but in general the easiest approach is to have identical set-ups for both mobile workers and home-based workers. That way, you can save money by avoiding duplicities in your networks.

Examine your computer hardware situation. Desktop PCs are cheaper than laptops, but both have come down in price dramatically. A docking station at work for a laptop will surely prepare your employees for anything life throws at them – flu season or a sudden trip to New York.

Communication plays a pivotal part in telecommuting. Basically, employees need to access company information from outside. One important caveat in this setup is the actual location of the information. If all your company information is stored both on a server and on the Internet, setting up telecommuters can be a breeze. Employees can use any kind of access method that involves Internet Protocol communications. This can be modem dial-up, a cable modem, a DSL pipe, an Ethernet connection, a leased line, a modem attached to a satellite dish in China – whatever access pipe is available.

If your LAN is not connected to the Internet, you probably have to set up and run your own dial-up server and virtual communications service for broadband users. This entails striking a special deal with one of the telecom providers so that you can have a special toll free or local number.

© 2018