Secrets to Successful Executive Buy-In of Telecommuting

Tips for making the case

After speaking at a recent event of IT executives, one asked how IT staffs can get senior management to consider implementing telecommuting. Common at more conservative, established companies, it’s tough to convince the powers that be that telecommuting will provide value to the company.

We have seen this problem with a number of companies, and there are a few ways to get the senior executives to realize a virtual, anytime, anywhere workplace is not only the way of the future, it’s already here and successfully implemented at many companies—and indeed, their competitors.

Before making the hard sell, it’s important to recognize that telecommuting isn’t for everyone. One fear executives have is if they let one person or one business unit work from home, it will spread like a virus throughout the entire company.

There are some clear job types (think contact center, programmer, accountant) that align well with telecommuting, and others that don’t (think receptionist, plant manager, or retail store clerk). And, even when the job type makes sense, the individuals within that business unit may not have the right personality for telecommuting.

The main selling point all executives understand is making money, saving money, or improving productivity to help make money or save money.

Identify a small group of employees whose job aligns well with telecommuting. Employees in sales, service, or the contact center often are good starting points. Discuss the idea with the group and determine whether the employees will work from home full-time or part-time. Determine the business value of moving those people to a home office (and if you can’t think of one, then this isn’t the right group).

In considering the business value, discuss how the move could improve employee retention, help the corporate green policy, improve customer service, or reduce facilities costs. For example, in contact centers, turnover rate typically is 35%. By moving those employees to home offices with some flexible schedules, companies have been able to reduce that rate to 10%. If the cost associated with recruiting and hiring a new contact center employee totals $3,000 to $5,000, it’s easy to see how quickly the numbers could add up, particularly in a large contact center.

Reassure executives that the technology can support this work style. By using SSL VPNs over DSL to the public Internet and then to the corporate network, telecommuters can connect securely and quickly to the data and applications they need.

What’s more, by implementing collaboration tools, central managers can keep tabs on the remote employees. For example, by using presence, managers can keep track of how often the employees are away from their computer and what their availability is. Desktop videoconferencing improves the productivity of meetings by making it difficult to multitask. And for contact centers, IP telephony can track call state to see how much time is on-hook and off-hook with customers or suppliers.

By giving employees flex time, companies can more easily serve customers during evening, weekend, or late evening hours. Also, implementing chat or Web conferencing makes it easier for contact-center agents to walk customers through installations of products, for example. Or, consider positions such as home inspectors. They can complete their report from a home office in the evening, and provide it via a secure Web site, increasing the customer’s level of satisfaction and the chance he will provide referrals to grow the business.

The easiest way to promote the virtual workplace is to document success. By taking a sample group, building a compelling business case, and then validating that business case, reluctant executives will become more receptive to the virtual workplace.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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