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Personal Finance
Telecommuting: the pitch
September 21, 1999: 6:24 a.m. ET

Getting the green light to work from home is easier if you're prepared
By Staff Writer Shelly K. Schwartz
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Convincing your boss that telecommuting is right for you can be a tough sell -- especially if there's not already a program in place where you work.
     At the very least, you should be prepared to pick a fight with customary practices of management by direct oversight and vow to the higher-ups that you won't abandon your weekly workload for the afternoon talk shows.
     But, armed with the facts, a proven track record for performance and a carefully crafted game plan, experts say there's a reasonably good chance you can tip the argument in your favor.
     "It can be a difficult pitch, and I think that's because many times the (would-be) telecommuter comes at it from the perspective of how it's going to be an advantage to them," said Jane Anderson, director of the Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education. "You should always think like a manager."
     Explain to them how your work-from-home system would benefit the company, and re-assure them that you'll be fully reachable if and when required.
     "The biggest concern among employers is figuring out how they'll know if you're productive," Anderson said.
    
Baby steps

     For the best results, you'll want to begin your pitch by giving the boss an easy out. Flexibility at this stage is paramount.
     "Never approach it from a permanent basis," Anderson suggests. "Tell them you'd like to try it for three months. Tell them they can evaluate you at the beginning, once in the middle and once at the end, to see how it's working in terms of productivity. Then tell them you'll sit down and reevaluate it at the end of the trial period."
     Don't forget to provide a list of measurable goals, either.
     If you work on research projects, for example, give your supervisor a realistic estimate on how many hours or days your projects typically take you to complete at the office. Or, if you're involved in customer service or sales, start keeping track of how many calls you put out to clients each week.
     Bottom line: Find some way to quantify your current level of productivity, so you're bosses will have something with which to compare.
    
Spin control

     Also, you should always focus on the benefits that telecommuting can deliver to the company, rather than the traffic jams such a work arrangement will enable you to avoid. And don't waste much time sharing any personal reasons for the request either.
     Management may be sympathetic short-term, but they aren't likely to oblige you forever.
     John M. H. Edwards, chief executive officer and executive director of Telework Analytics International in Arlington, Va., a corporate consulting firm, said you may want to start by eliminating the term "telecommute" from your vocabulary.
     "When [employees] are talking to their managers it's important that they use the word teleworking, rather than telecommuting, since it has the word 'work' in it and it sounds more like a business decision," he said. "Telecommuting sounds like it's purely for the benefit and convenience of the employee."
    
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A five-step plan

     If you're just beginning to consider telecommuting (or teleworking) as an option, the American Telecommuting Association says there's an easy five-step process you can follow to get from here to there.
     For starters, sit down and do some serious thinking.
     Consider the impact telecommuting every day or even part-time will have on your relationships at work and at home, your career opportunities, job satisfaction and financial situation.
     "It's not for everyone," Anderson admits. "Full-time telecommuting can be like falling off a cliff for some people. They need the social interaction of an office environment."
     If you decide you'd like to give it a try, go the next step and develop a proposal.
     "Come up with concrete answers to the questions your immediate supervisor and higher level managers will want to consider," the ATA recommends in its brochure entitled, "How Can I Start Telecommuting?"
     Among them: Why do you want to telecommute? What advantages will this working style offer you and your company? From what location will you telecommute? Is the space and equipment sufficient to do so?
     Also, decide how many days a week you'll work from home or another remote location; when you will start and whether you envision a return to the office at some point in the future.
     It's wise, too, to let your superiors know up-front how often you'll be checking in. Provide them with a list of your pager numbers, cell phones, fax numbers and e-mail addresses, so they know you'll be on the line when they need you. Simple steps like that go a long way toward putting gun-shy managers at ease, the ATA said.
     "You have to explain why you, in particular, have the skills necessary to work from home," Edwards added. "Are you a good self-starter? Are you disciplined in your work? Is there a risk that you might start feeling isolated and cut-off if you're working from home? Is your home the right environment?"
    
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The sell

     Now comes the hard part -- getting the green light from the higher ups.
     This task is made significantly easier, of course, if you're a good worker to begin with -- with a proven track record of getting the job done, done well and done on time.
     The inability to directly oversee a staff that's working from home is perhaps the greatest concern of managers. Since many, too, fear workers will become less productive, give them some facts to prove them wrong.
     Jack Heacock, vice president of major accounts at Tmanage Inc. in Austin, Texas and outgoing president of International Telework Association, said studies reveal that workers are anywhere from 7 percent to 25 percent more productive when they work from home.
     "They can focus on what they are supposed to do," he said. "They're not distracted by who's wearing what, or office gossip."
     Anderson said her clients, too, have reported dramatic gains in productivity among their telecommuting workers.
     "There's a medical transcription service out here that reported a 16 percent increase in volume and quality of work among their employees who worked from home," she said, noting turnover was lower too.
    
Give them a scare

     You also will want to arm yourself with examples of other companies that have successfully implemented telecommuting programs. Try to find those that pertain to your job description in particular. Start with the competition.
     "If the competition is allowing their infotech professionals to telecommute one or two days a week, that's going to get your manager thinking," Anderson said. "Then the issue of retention comes up."
    
Staying connected

     As the fourth step of the plan, you'll need to figure out exactly what equipment will be required to set yourself up.
     In many cases, that can be as simple as borrowing the company's laptop. But long-distance phone calls -- if that's required in your job -- can add up fast, so be sure you establish up front who's going to pay for it.
     Remind them that by allowing you to telecommute, you are potentially saving the company thousands of dollars.
     "When you look at the cost of recruiting and retaining one employee, you can really make a case for telecommuting," Heacock said.
     Citing studies released by the American Bankers Association, Heacock said it costs some financial services companies more than $26,000 to recruit and train one person for their call centers.
     "What exacerbates the situation is you can hire 10 people and train them all, then when they are fully productive you only retain two of them," he said. "You've just spent a quarter of a million dollars for two employees."
     Offering a telecommute program can be a major factor in helping to attract and retain qualified workers, Heacock said.
     "Also, suppose you want to expand your business and the labor market is tight for skilled workers," he said. "You might find the most qualified worker in Kentucky, but instead of paying $40,000 to relocate that person, or simply not being able to recruit them due to geography, you can simply allow them to telework."
    
The resistance

     If you run into resistance from your supervisors, Anderson suggests you be persistent but subtle.
     "Try to start taking advantage of some tight project deadlines by telling your manager you need to bring the company laptop home over the weekend to finish your work," she said. "You can begin to show them that telecommuting can work and that way you'll begin to effect change gradually."
     If they still say no, it may be time to shift gears. Find out if the reason they've refused your request has to do with performance concerns or if it's just a matter of company policy.
     "If your manager says no, you need to ask what you need to do to improve in order to go off-site," Anderson said. "You have to be the initiator, take the lead and ask the questions. It will only show you are taking it seriously."
     Good luck!Back to top

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American Telecommuting Association

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