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Telecommuting: A trend on the rise.


It may seem at first like a radical thought, but the best way to fill that key position in your office might be to hire someone who prefers working from home.

That wouldnít have been the case a generation ago, but itís happening more frequently today, when nearly 5 percent of the U.S. workforce consists of full-time telecommuters and one in four workers is telecommuting for at least part of the week. The trend is picking up steam. More than half of the business leaders surveyed at the 2014 Global Leadership Summit in London said their work forces would be working remotely by 2020, and Fast Company magazine has predicted that half of all employees will be working remotely by then.

You have probably read that todayís workers, especially millennials and those with young children, crave the flexibility that working from home can provide. But hiring a telecommuter can have benefits for a business as well.

If you need a talented professional with a specific skill set, why limit yourself to candidates who live within 20 or 30 miles of the office, especially if the work doesnít have to be performed on site? Conversely, if you have a skilled employee on your team and he or she must relocate for family reasons, it might make sense for you to have that team member telecommute rather than hiring an unknown as a replacement.

Positions in bookkeeping, website maintenance, software development and sales might be filled just as easily with telecommuters as with office-based workers. And there may be situations where hiring part-time specialists to fit the limited or occasional needs of your small business (marketing, public relations and training, for example) would make sense.

If you have positions in your business that could be a good fit for telecommuters, there are important steps to consider in filling the positions, equipping the team members and establishing successful collaboration with your on-site staff.

Not only should telecommuters possess the skills specified in your job description, they should be self-starters who are capable of digging into tasks without requiring a great deal of supervision. When interviewing, look for candidates with good communication skills and experience working remotely.

As you consider your candidates, find out about their work environment. Do they work in a dedicated home office or at the kitchen table? In addition to phone and internet connections, do they have a printer, a scanner and any other special equipment that is essential for the job? Will you have to provide software specific to your business or make any special IT arrangements to ensure the security of work-related information transmitted over the internet?

Many developments in the last 10 or 15 years have facilitated the growth of telecommuting and could ease the transition for your business too. File-sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Docs, project management applications like Basecamp, and multiple videoconferencing systems are among the most obvious examples.

Just as important as having access to this new technology is the commitment to using it well. It is essential that remote workers keep in touch with their office-based supervisors and coworkers, reporting at designated intervals on the status of projects and quickly communicating the unexpected, whether itís a new idea or something thatís going wrong.

Supervising remote workers can be challenging for a manager. Training can be an issue, especially if the telecommuter is new to your organization. In addition to regular phone and video conferences, it is a good idea to schedule face-to-face meetings, perhaps on a monthly or quarterly basis. Supervisors will learn that having remote workers will force them to focus more carefully on results, and sometimes they will find that the telecommuter is providing a better return than the workhorse who conspicuously logs long hours in the office.

Businesses that carefully identify positions that telecommuters can capably fill, equip their telecommuters with the necessary tools and establish essential reporting standards can make remote workers a valuable asset Ė filling key roles in the business and retaining high-quality employees who might otherwise be tempted to move on.

I can attest to the merits of telecommuting. I have been working from more than 1,000 miles away from the home office for more than six months, and I participated in a teleconference with a home-based collaborator to prepare this article.