7. Hold lots of meetings where several remote employees participate by teleconference
In-person meeting participants use body language to let everyone know they'd like some air time. Teleconferencing participants have to find a gap in the action and then barge in. It's hard enough when there's just one of them. Have several on the line and they'll give up.
Do this often enough and even the most hardened remote employee will start coming in when meetings are scheduled.
An embellishment: Exclude off-site employees from impromptu whiteboard problem-solving sessions. It's easy. It's not on their calendar, by the time you've set up a WebEx session the spontaneity is lost, and anyway, no software solution is as quick and natural as a real whiteboard.
You can always tell the off-site employees what the answer is later on.
8. Remember that remote employees are always available
Remote employees are used to being at work when they're at home, and your only contact with them is by telephone. And everyone knows two of the benefits of telecommuting are working in a bathrobe and on a flexible schedule.
You can be flexible too: Call during dinner time, at 11 p.m., whenever it's convenient for you. This can be especially effective when you're in different time zones.
Remember, if you don't respect regular working hours as a boundary, neither will your remote employees, and that means the company will get even more work out of them.
9. Call remote employees only when you have a specific purpose
With remote employees, call when you have something specific to say or to ask. Especially, call on thin pretexts to verify the employee isn't slacking off.
But don't call on a regular basis to have the sorts of casual conversations you conduct with on-site employees. Make it policy: Remind all employees that telephones are business tools, not to be wasted on non-business-related conversations.
This way, nobody will waste their time and yours with pointless trust-building.
10. Make them second-class citizens
Employees who work on-site hear about career opportunities before they become official. They hear rumors of management shake-ups, budget cuts, executive departures, and so on that never are formally announced.
Employees who work on-site are immersed in the day-to-day informal interactions that constantly build and reinforce the company culture. Remote employees are freed from these distractions. Keep it that way so that they stay focused on their work.
Also, give plum, high-visibility assignments to on-site employees. They are, after all, always there when you need them.
And when performance appraisal time rolls around, limit telecommuter reviews to hard production numbers. The intangibles you rely on for on-site staff aren't really relevant to telecommuters, are they?
Wrapping up the plot to kill telecommuting
If you use even some of these 10 steps, everyone will end up treating remote employees as second-class corporate citizens, the remote employees will know their place, and on-site employees will happily brave long commutes so that they don't become invisible.
Any one of these 10 tactics might be enough to make sure your company fails to make telecommuting work. In combination, they'll discredit the concept until long after you're retired.
Acknowledgement: To prepare for this article, I asked the subscribers of Keep the Joint Running to tell me about their experiences telecommuting and managing telecommuters. Nearly 350 were kind enough to send in very thoughtful and insightful responses.
They thought I was going to explain how to make it succeed. Little did they know!