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How to Know If Your Telecommuters Are Really Working

If performance results are unclear or more difficult to define, David Lewis, president and CEO of human resources consulting firm OperationsInc recommends monitoring technology.

"There are ways to monitor up-time on their laptop and connectivity to your network. I also advise using Instant Messenger as a way to communicate. It shows when a computer is dormant or the person is away, perhaps indicating they are not working;" he says.

For companies that use Skype or an online video chat service, seeing your employee at work a few times a week can be helpful.

"Webcams can be a great way to stay in touch," he says. "You just have to make sure it's a prearranged conference and that you're not spying."

Before any business pursues a work-from-home arrangement in the long term, says Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of workforce solutions company Benjamin Enterprises, says that "productivity indicators" must be clearly established.

"Clear milestones for work production throughout the business day will prevent down time," she says. "These milestones should require review with discussion of the tangible output with the team leader."

Business owners must understand the end product they desire from their remote employees so that they can measure quality of output, not simply quantity of time spent, Benjamin says.

"If the agreed work is challenging, yet the milestones are clearly articulated and agreed upon, then the remote worker should be able to meet the desired work quality and expectations," she says.

Once expectations and milestones are agreed upon, says Diane Rodgers, senior human resources operations manager at CBIZ Human Capital Services, the employer has to accept that there will be some time spent on nonwork-related tasks.

"If the performance, productivity and customer satisfaction expectations are being met, does the employer care if the employee works in a load of laundry in between? It's not always apparent, even when employees are working in the office, whether they are constantly working productively.They may be intently staring at their computer screen, but what's on the computer may not be work-related," Rodgers says. "There is no fool-proof way to know whether an employee is always thinking about work every hour of the workday, regardless of where they are working."

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