Ask Winnie: Column 5

Ask Winnie: Column 5

Dear Winnie,

Some of my employees have been asking if they can work at home several days a week.

Much of our work is done on computers, and we do have the capability to dial in from outside locations and access all of the same software.

I'd like to try it, but I don't want a disaster... like having no one in the office to answer customer calls.

Winnie, do you have any suggestions as to how we might make an experiment in telework successful?

Cautious in California

Winnie Responds

Dear Cautious,

Congratulations for being open to your employees' needs! Certainly being networked will help, especially if you and the workforce makes use of e-mail to keep in touch. You might look into scheduling software so you all can keep track of projects and deadlines.

If you can, have someone in the office at all times to answer the phones. You may operate with a skeleton staff on the premises, or you could rotate when staff members would be required to be in the office. Another option would be to forward customer calls to designated employees' home office numbers. Better yet, use a voice mail system. Beware, though, that voice mail is only as good as you make it. If messages aren't checked regularly and appropriate action taken immediately, then it's virtually worthless in terms of customer service.

Whatever system you use, Cautious, be very careful that you get input from your employees on how to respond to the customer when you go to the home office plan. Develop procedures together and build in some kind of evaluation so that if anything falls in the cracks, you can know it right away and remedy the situation. If they really want to work from home, then my guess is that your folks will jump at the chance to remove the barriers to doing so.

Oh--and I don't mean to sound like a broken record--but I must insist that you bring everyone together face-to-face periodically, especially if they are highly interdependent in getting the work done. Maybe one day a week should be declared "In the Office Day."


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