Make us your home page

Cost-conscious companies letting employees telecommute

When you can read your e-mail at the beach, hold a videoconference in your dining room and chat with a co-worker from a doctor's waiting room, is there finally a new definition of "the office"? • The numbers say yes.

Teleworking — working remotely at least one day a week — is on the rise, driven by businesses desperate to cut costs, a new emphasis on the green movement and the increasing availability of a high-speed Internet connection. Today, more than 34 million U.S. adults telecommute at least occasionally and that number is expected to swell to 63 million — or 43 percent of U.S. workers — by 2016.

"The recession just may have moved teleworking from being a cushy perk to becoming a business necessity," Miami employment attorney Richard Tuschman of Epstein Becker Green recently told a group of employers considering telework arrangements.

Managers typically resist out of fear of losing control of employees. But now, businesses desperate to save money on office space or reluctant to pay a new hire to relocate are allowing workers, sometimes even forcing workers, to set up a home or virtual office — either on a part-time or a full-time basis.

When the recession hit, some telecommuters panicked and retreated back to the office for face time. Yet, a good number of workers — about 70 percent of people in service businesses — say they still work remotely at some time, according to Kate Lister, author and telework expert. In the future, more companies will be agreeing to creative telework or virtual arrangements on a trial basis, she says.

If telework is the future, here's a blueprint for success:

Be creative

Needing more space, Western Union looked for options to expansion. It launched a pilot program in 2008 called iFlex to allow 15 percent of its South Florida work force to telework up to three days a week. The company crunched the numbers and figured out it saves 3.2 million over five years in real estate costs and other expenses.

"We discovered telework is an excellent solution from a capital standpoint," said Sara Baker, human resources director for Western Union. "We also found from an employee perspective that it not only saves the employee money, but they are more productive, more engaged and use less sick leave."

Develop criteria

Tuschman, the lawyer, recommends having a telework policy and making it clear who is eligible to work out of the office. Someone who needs a lot of prodding would not be a good candidate.

Ken Erdberg, a Western Union information technology director, supervises two teleworkers and believes specific management skills are necessary.

"You need to trust your employees and manage by results. A micromanager would not fit well," he said.


Russell Correa, a human resources consultant, works remotely from South Florida for a New York firm. He previously worked at Corporate Counseling Associates' main office. Correa uses instant messaging and video chatting for spontaneous conversation with co-workers.

Correa also finds technology can help manage perceptions, allowing his manager to see him online and view him as being constantly contactable.


How do you monitor employees who work from home and judge their performance?

Karen Korner, vice president of marketing at DAS Group in Hollywood, says her ad agency is looking to close two of its offices and make employees work from home, an alternative to layoffs. She wonders how she will ensure they put in their hours and get their work done. "I am concerned about the guy who will play a nine-hole round of golf on my nickel," she said.

Ideally, companies with telework arrangements measure productivity rather than hours. Correa shows his productivity by creating a weekly "What Russell Is Up To" report and sending it not only to his manager but to his teammates, too. Correa says the report sent via e-mail on Fridays includes a detailed review of his activities for the week and sets up action steps for the upcoming week.


Once employees start working remotely, good communication becomes critical. There must be a discussion about how a boss and employee will communicate and how often. Correa says he addressed this with a frank conversation with his boss, asking: "How can I remove the barriers that get in your way of thinking I'm available?"

Jodi Clausen, a teleworker at Western Union, says she communicated more during a management change, conveying her value to her new boss: "My costs are less because I'm not there every day and my productivity is just as good."

Consider expenses and liability: Most companies continue to pay for the basic equipment and services employees need to work at home or on the road. For hourly workers, Epstein Becker attorney Kevin Vance says wage and hour laws apply and software exists to track time.

Cost-conscious companies letting employees telecommute 06/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 5:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New apartment complex delivers unique floor plans


    RIVERVIEW — A new luxury apartment community has opened in the Progress Village area touting itself as a distinct living option just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.

    Alta at Magnolia Park dubs its new apartment community, that opened earlier this year in Riverview, a modern and distinct option for living just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.
  2. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  3. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  4. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  5. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]