When Cheryl Mayberry McKissack launched Nia Enterprises in 2000, she knew she wanted telework to be an option for employees. That was the easy part. Before the Chicago-based IT services company could let employees work from home, however, McKissack had to make sure the practice made sense for the business.
“When we started the company, we decided then that we would provide an option for certain types of jobs to telecommute,” she says. “We spent several hundred thousand dollars and invested in key software packages.” It was more than the start-up needed at the time and certainly not the norm, McKissack admits, but the investment paid off in productivity and customer satisfaction.
But you don’t have to invest a king’s ransom in technology to see a benefit, says Michael Dziak, president of InteleWorks Inc., a Peachtree City, Georgia-based company that helps businesses establish telework programs. “You can do this on a zero budget,” he adds. The most important thing is to start with the job, not the employee, says Dziak. “You have to think: department, jobs, then people within those jobs. If you start with people, there are going to be many obstacles,” he warns. He offers these tips for setting up a successful program:
- Set up a task force. Choose a group of people from various departments to establish a program. “We help each member of the task force [become] subject matter experts in telework, then we help them design the program.”
- Consider the job. Look specifically at the position to see if it has portable tasks. “Nearly every employee has work that can easily be done from home,” says Dziak.
- Look at the individual. The employee has to meet certain criteria. If an employee has marginal performance at work, it isn’t going to get better at home. In fact, it’s going to get worse.
- Look at the environment. The employee should have the proper home conditions. “They don’t have to have an ergonomically correct office, but it should be a comfortable and safe environment,” says Dziak.
Joyce Twohig Larrick, director of the Bowie Community Network Telecommuting Center in Bowie, Maryland, says telework offers huge benefits not only for employees but also for businesses. “Some businesses think it only benefits employees. But telework offers companies the opportunity to save real dollars in the form of increased productivity, savings on office real estate and parking fees, and reduction in absenteeism,” Larrick says.
But one challenge, she adds, is making sure employees and managers are aware of all the tangential issues involved. “It’s important to understand the impact it will have on workplace issues such as timekeeping, insurance, and workers compensation,” she says. “And if the home isn’t conducive to working, they might have liability issues as well.”
Another thing to consider is who pays for what. Some companies allow employees to use their own technology. Others pay for some or part of the equipment and high-speed Internet access. With eight employees in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, McKissack says Nia Enterprises pays for its employees’ equipment. “It’s