Telecommuting – community, tools and communication

The talent war is real. Increasingly, talent-management savvy employers recognize the potential of telecommuting to provide them with a competitive edge ( whether it’s for global teams, attracting talent to high cost-of-living areas or retaining legacy knowledge.

Widespread as telecommuting has become, you still need to get a handle on the nitty-gritty practical knowledge about what makes telecommuting tick (or tank):

  • Is telecommuting cost effective?
  • How does it really work?
  • What separates telecommuting winners from losers?
  • What counter-intuitive habit is crucial for robust remote teams?
  • When should in-real-life (IRL) be the norm rather than a remote team?

What’s Telecommuting’s ROI?

From a financial perspective, telecommuting is a win for both employers and employees.  Per, if those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time (roughly the national average for those who do so regularly) the national savings would total over $700 Billion a year including:

  • A typical business would save $11,000 per person per year
  • Telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year

But Wait….

Inviting as that sounds, not all telecommuting programs are successful.

What Best Practices Make Telecommuting Successful?

For remote teams to be successful, it takes

  • Hiring the right people
  • Frequent, focused communication
  • The right tools
  • Special consideration, and
  • One surprising “secret ingredient”

The Right People:  Independent & Communicative

Kelly Jo Horton, currently Chief Technology Officer of startup Intersekt Solutions, managed a team of existing employees from several global regional and home-based offices when she worked at Tektronics.  She emphasized, “Good virtual teams start with hiring the right people.  They have to be able to manage time well, work efficiently without supervision and must communicate regularly and often.

Kelly Jo said she didn’t need a metric to know if someone was (or wasn’t) working out. “If someone asks you ‘Where is Joe on a project?’ and you cannot answer, you have a problem. It could be your problem, not following up with team, or a team member not communicating. The problem is obvious when someone brings it up.

John Doe, a telecommuting manager, managing a remote team for a global accounting firm (who prefers anonymity) adds, “When you are in a managed workflow environment, it doesn’t take long to figure out who is producing and who is not.”

Focused Communication

Regular, focused communication is critical.  Kelly Jo held weekly one-on-ones with everyone on her team. Complete weekly status reports were required of all team members.  She spoke with some team members several times daily.

The Right Technical Tools Enhance Engagement.

Thanks to mobile phones, laptops, instant messaging, video conferencing and more, virtual teams are now more feasible than ever – whether those teams work virtually together across town from a home office, across the country, or scattered across the world. Technology continues to expand, extending virtual team connectivity.  Two managers share their favorite technical tools….

About 80% of Rose Flores Medlock‘s, an eLearning Instructional Designer, department telecommutes. Technical connectivity tools are an integral component of ongoing team communication. “Our team uses video chat—GoToMeeting, Skype, Slack, etc.—weekly and particularly for group meetings.”

Kelly Jo found “Virtual ‘face-to-face’ video meetings with laptops and big screens worked well (except for China, whose wifi was inadequate).  In addition to phone, email and video conferencing, we also used IM [instant messaging] chat tools, such as Yammer, Trillian, Slack.

Special Consideration:  Paying Attention to Ps & Qs

Still, even the best tools can fail, cautions Rose.  “Remember that a human is on the other end of the Slack call or Google chat or whatever tool you’re using to talk.

  • Slow down. Consider how much context the other person needs in order to help solve a problem or answer a question.
  • Decide how best to run a meeting in order to encourage the most interaction between team members.
  • Purposefully plan in-person gatherings for team building and celebrate professional and personal events.”

Rose believes It’s important to practice thoughtful communication. People will feel respected and valued. Engagement levels will rise. Those things matter in any work environment.

Surprise Secret to Telecommuting Team Success? Community!

No matter how far apart teams are, those that thrive do so by creating their own community, when ever and however they can, on a personal, human level.  If they can’t do it face-to-face, they do the best they can to simulate togetherness, camaraderie and even genuinely providing each other with emotional support.

Remote doesn’t mean impersonal,” Kelly Jo emphasizes.  “I go out of my way to make sure everyone on my team is included.”  With her Tektronics team, she “made an effort to make sure I spent time with every team member.