Corporate culture: Handling teleworkers

Home-based workers can be stars with the right management.

Managers like to believe home-based employees are working as hard as if they were in the office, even if their attire is probably a little less than professional. But appearances — or, in this case, the lack of them — sometimes aren’t what they seem, and it’s not always because a particular teleworker is lazy. “Virtual work amplifies pre-existing problems within an organization,” says Michael Dziak, an Atlanta-based trainer and consultant specializing in telework programs.

For example, effective performance measurements may be missing, or managers may be poor at handling their people and expectations. But even healthy companies can have subpar teleworkers if there is an unsuitable work environment at home. Dziak recommends employees sign an agreement detailing their working guidelines, which should include specifics about child care, safety and security measures and reporting procedures.

Poor performance could also be due to a lack of technology. Computing giant IBM Canada, for one, relies on tools such as instant messaging and collaboration software to keep tabs on its 8,000 employees who work off-site and keep them in touch with colleagues.

Of course, employees may seem to be goofing off at home because they are. In that case, managers need to wield discipline just as they would with any slacker. At the same time, companies should examine their policies on the types of employees allowed to work from home. Dziak says teleworkers should demonstrate strong motivation and the ability to work unsupervised. They should also be average or better performers, have no disciplinary actions on their record, and have been with the company for at least six months.

Implementing a telework program may seem like a lot of extra hassle, but the benefits include significant savings on real estate, a competitive advantage when hiring and even improved managerial performance. “We’ve noticed virtual workers make good managers even better, because it forces them to track everybody’s performance more closely and become better communicators,” Dziak says. If done properly, there’s no reason pajama-clad employees can’t be among a company’s top contributors.