How to phase in remote workers for small businesses

Summary:Allowing employees to work from home has benefits for both the worker and the company, but it’s not without risk. Here’s how to do it right.

Telecommuting, also referred to as working remotely, started a few years ago in a small way but has grown steadily. Having some workers based at home has benefits for both the employee and company if handled correctly.

Home office
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

While it seems a simple process to allow some employees to work at home, it's not without complications that can be minimized with proper planning. Setting remote workers up properly is vital to making the program work well.

Benefits of remote workers

Why should a small business allow some staff members to work from home? There are some tangible benefits that make it worthwhile for the company.

Make sure remote workers have the equipment they need to get the job done. You want them to do the same job at home that they'd do in the office, so equip them accordingly.

Working at home appeals to many, and offering this option to candidates can draw top talent to the small business. This is especially the case for those rock stars who've worked from home in the past. Any edge you have to hire good talent is worth the effort.

Allowing employees to work from home can save money, always a concern for small companies. It reduces the amount of expensive office space required, and that's never a bad thing.

Perhaps most importantly, if the remote work program is handled correctly, it often has a positive effect on morale. Remote workers are often happy workers, and that alone can make such a program worth it.

Testing the water

Before plunging headfirst into the remote worker pool, it's prudent to test the waters to make sure it's a good fit for your small business. A little planning goes a long way to ensure your employees are happy and have the support they need.

The small business owner has enough on his/her plate to spend a lot of time to get this right, so it's prudent to run a small test before throwing the switch. Sound out the idea of remote working with the staff, and pick one or two top candidates eager to give it a try.

Even with a small test group, give enough time for the test to iron out all the kinks of the new program, and to properly evaluate if it's working well. Six months to a year is a good length of time to make sure everything is the way it should be.

Make sure remote workers have the equipment they need to get the job done. You want them to do the same job at home that they'd do in the office, so equip them accordingly. This doesn't mean they need a lot of equipment, just the essentials. We'll look at this in detail later in this article.

Don't make the mistake of supplying a home worker with every piece of office equipment they'd have in the office. That's not cost efficient, and most of it will end up sitting idle in the home office.

In the beginning of the remote working test, it may be good to have the workers come into the office one day a week. This will ease them into full-time working at home and help them deal with the isolation that many feel in the beginning. This will also tend to lessen any alienation of the office workers with the coworker otherwise now out of sight.

A good practice to follow with home workers, especially for the test, is to schedule a teleconference weekly between the remote employees and team mates in the office. This should happen on the same day and time each week so it becomes a part of the office work ethic. 

This shrinks the barrier created between workers due to having some in the office and some at home. It reinforces the solidarity teams need to be as effective as possible, and ensures office workers see those working at home as providing an equal part of the effort.

As with any test program, any issues that arise in the home working pilot should be addressed immediately. Such issues may be peculiar to your business, and working with remote workers will help get the program working smoothly if dealt with quickly.

Next: What remote workers need

See also:


Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Printers, Smartphones


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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