Winter Weather Raises Telecommuting Questions

By Joyce M. Rosenberg, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Dangerous winds blew across the Midwest this week and North Dakota got its first significant snow.

With these early signs of winter, small business owners may want to think about letting workers telecommute rather than contend with snow, sleet and ice. And maybe think about allowing them to telecommute long-term.

Telecommuting employees fall into two categories. Many do it periodically, during an emergency such as bad weather or because they have to care for sick children. But workers at many companies have been telecommuting full-time or amost full-time for years.

Business owners' attitudes toward telecommuting tend to be that they either love it or hate it. Some have embraced it so much that they've been able to move their companies to smaller offices because they don't need desk space for full-time telecommuters. Yet other owners are still uneasy about not having their workers on-site, even when there's a short-term emergency.

The great fear among some business owners is that telecommuting employees may spend more time on distractions like TV or the laundry than they will on their work. They worry that they won't be able to control their staffers if they don't have face-to-face contact each day.

"If I can't see the person doing the job, are they going to do the job?" is the question these owners ask, said Rob Wilson, president of Employco, a Chicago-based resources outsourcing company.

Wilson said that owners should be able to tell pretty quickly, from employees' output and the quality of their work, whether they're at their PCs or watching TV. If it's clear they're slacking, then those performance problems can be dealt with just like they would if it were taking place in an office.

Their fears are understandable. But, Wilson pointed out, if you've hired the right staffers, then you should be able to trust them to get their work done, no matter where they do it.

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