Telecommuting continues to garner mixed reviews. Employees envision flexible schedules that allow them to begin work before the sun rises if need be accomplish a few personal tasks in between phone calls and reports. Bosses fear employees sitting around in their pajamas, sweeping their floors, or folding laundry. Worse yet, an employee who puts off deadlines until the last minute, producing low-quality results in a rush.

Not all jobs are suitable for telecommuting. Not all employees are suitable either. Determining whether or not the pros outweigh the cons will help organizations to determine if telecommuting is a good option for them.

PRO: Flexible schedules increase job satisfaction and lower the attrition rate. Managing your professional and personal life between the hours of eight a.m. and 5 p.m. is proving to be an impossibility as the demands on our time increase, forcing most professionals to put off personal items until the weekends. It’s no surprise that employees do not feel rested or replenished come Monday morning. They spent the weekend running errands and cleaning the house! Allowing your employees to work from home gives them a reasonable amount of flexibility in their schedule, making it possible to achieve more balance between the professional and personal. Ultimately, this impacts job satisfaction and subsequently, the attrition rate in your office.

PRO: Increased Productivity. A recent study conducted of a Chinese travel website, Ctrip, showed that one-third of their employees who opted to work from home completed 13.5% more work than those who worked in the traditional office. Job satisfaction definitely played a role in positive results. In addition, fewer distractions are a key ingredient as well. The report also found that “people at home worked more hours. They started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day. They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch. Sick days for employees working from home plummeted.”

PRO: Less overhead means more revenue. Equipping employees with a laptop and Skype account is fairly cheap. Decreasing the amount of space and furniture allows more money to be reinvested in the company… including salaries.

CON: Isolation negatively impacts the collaborative process. A “team atmosphere” is the norm in many organizations. This collaborative environment allows for departments to strategize together, resulting in “out of the box” thinking and creative solutions. By allowing key employees to work from home, they are no longer part of the action in a consistent way. Requiring weekly check-ins, scheduling strategy meetings via Skype, and consistent communication through weekly emails allows managers to track the progress of their employees. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to a cohesive team. Employees who only appear in the office on a weekly basis are disrupting a team that has worked alongside one another every day.

CON: Measuring results can be tricky. Ctrip conducted its research using employees working in their call center. Productivity and hours worked are easily assessed when dealing with phone calls- the results are purely quantitative. But what about Marketing, traditionally a difficult area to accurately assess ROI? Productivity isn’t as easily calculated in those departments.

CON: Managing employees you rarely see is more difficult than it seems. Virtual employees are the opposite of the “open door” office culture trend we read so much about these days. Much time and money have been invested in reshaping the traditional manager-employee relationship. Employees are looking for bosses who communicate clearly and effectively, create opportunities for growth, and accurately assess performance. This can be challenging enough within the office. How much more complicated will it be when a percentage of the staff isn’t present in the office on a regular basis? “Virtual work or telecommuting requires self-discipline, motivation, and a tremendous amount of focus… Managing employees remotely can be very challenging, and it is ultimately the manager’s responsibility for determining which of their employees demonstrate the necessary skills and traits for performing successfully in a remote location.” Managers will need to create new standards for measuring productivity and protocols for assessing success and accountability.

Workers who are highly focused, self-sufficient, have great organization skills, and enjoy the solitude of working at home may be the most ideal employees for teleworking.  The keys to success may in reality lay in the management of teleworkers.  Managers must learn to trust their virtual workers, shift reward systems to focus on results, not time spent on any given project, and set clear timeframes involved in completing tasks and ensure employees have the resources required to complete them. In addition, they must clearly define expectations of the employee’s performance, set work goals and objectives, and implement a career track for your virtual employees.  Just because someone’s working at home doesn’t mean they can’t be promoted to leadership positions. Encourage informal communication within your team and keep them involved to ensure they don’t feel isolated. Communicate on a regular basis using tools like conferencing, IM, and texting to interact. Finally, establishing performance measures and monitor for success.  Applying these best practices across the organization will benefit not just your teleworkers, but all your employees.

Do you telecommute?