"We were crowded," Campbell reports. "With the confluence in interest in working remotely, improvements in unified communications technology and the reality of our physical space constraints, we set up "hoteling" facilities in our headquarters with whiteboards and bean bags." Shared, unassigned hoteling space is a flexible, cost-effect alternative to maintaining dedicated workspaces for employees who aren't in the office every day.
"It's had a tremendous impact on our real estate requirements in IT, and we've gained significant savings." Campbell doesn't have a figure solely for IT, but company-wide, he estimates $30 million in real-estate savings overall.
Other times, a remote workforce is the only workforce a company can attract. Annis knows this situation all too well from his experience as senior VP of IT at his previous employer, Universal Technical Institute (UTI). It used Progress Software for application development, but developers were not easy to find. "We couldn't convince enough of those developers to move to Phoenix," he says. "If we had an open position, and the applicant was in Tampa, it didn't matter."
Eventually, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the developers, project managers and QA staff were remote. UTI flew its remote Progress developers into Phoenix every six to eight weeks in order to foster relationships, which kept everyone connected and collaborative.
Experts give that strategy high marks. Organizationally, it's important to schedule regular confabs for remote employees, they say -- everything from quarterly in-person meetings to a regularly scheduled weekly check-in call between employee and supervisor. Sometimes, as with agile scrums among developers, a daily call works best to assess progress.
All those strategies help reduce the danger of invisibility to remote employees, RHT's Reed says. "If you work remotely all the time, you miss the opportunity to engage, to build camaraderie, to take part in face-to-face meetings. There's a danger to being out of sight and out of mind. You may still have to make yourself available, and make time to be in the office."
How to launch a telework program
Stew Levy, senior consultant for Telework Program Solutions, a Burke, Va.-based consulting firm, recommends a "crawl, walk, run" strategy for telecommuting programs.
In the crawl phase, define policies and guidelines. In the walk phase, deploy a pilot project so that both employees and supervisors get a sense of what telecommuting will look like.
"Then conduct some focus sessions to find out what worked and what didn't," says Levy. "Find out what the supervisors want to see differently, and what the employees want to see changed."
In the run phase, you launch the program, usually with telecommuting allowed one or two days a week.
You should also establish guidelines around communication and responsiveness -- do you expect telecommuters to be on an instant messaging system and respond within five minutes? Should they respond to an email within one hour? What's the escalation path from IM to email to texting to calling?
Nancy Crouch, deputy CIO at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., seconds the need for both training and performance-management tools. "We've invested heavily in career development, professional development and performance management. We know who needs to work face-to-face versus who can come back from working at home with three times the usual amount of work completed."