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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Virtual Staffing - Thinking Green
our introductory blog entry

By Paul Tomori
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 13:32:03 (EDT)

Welcome to the ACTION Corporation web log (blog!) called: Louder Than Words. We will make frequent entries to our blog to express our views on the current state of affairs in the website industry, the occasional political item, some general business stuff, an infrequent rant too (just if we feel like it!) and perhaps we'll just express an opinion on something we think strongly about. Some will be short "micro-blogs" like what you might see on twitter. Some will be longer "essay-type" entries.

We hope you enjoy it.

Our introductory blog is about tele-commuting. Read on.

“Work is something you do, not something you travel to.” Such is the slogan of the telecommuting evangelists. It is also the echoed sentiment of environmentalists who observe the unnecessary highway congestion and yellow smog-filled horizon surrounding our cities.

As someone who is deeply entrenched in the internet business, I am aware that our industry is one that can make an easier transition to a telecommuting workforce. However, many other professions can take advantage. Look at all of your “information services”. Accountants, book keepers, writers, graphic designers, architects, consultants and lawyers all easily qualify. In cases where “face time” is required, try having them venture into the office one or two half-days per week to have direct meetings with clients or colleagues.

If you are an entrepreneur or run a virtual company, the absence of an office will make telecommuting a necessity. Such people and their staff can often be seen negotiating big business affairs over a Grande low-fat, no-whip, white chocolate Café Mocha at the local Starbucks.

I know of entire companies, with multiple people on staff, who do not have a central office. In fact, the staff are mostly contractors who aren’t even local enough to make having an office a necessity.

In other cases, companies pull together small teams of experts just to complete a short-term project. These people are working what are called: “micro-jobs”. These are short-term assignments performed serially for different companies who may even be in different time zones.

If you are an employer, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy the expertise of someone across the country or around the globe. If you are a worker, do not limit your job prospects to the local job scene. Develop a skill set and expertise, then peddle your services globally.

There are simple tools available for enabling telecommuting.

  1. For tracking time, use web-based “virtual punchclocks”
  2. For communications by phone, use internet phone technology known as “Voice Over IP” (VOIP for short) and assign one of your office numbers to ring over to an employee’s home line all through a web-based call routing manager. Just keep your primary business phone number on a landline in the rare case that the internet at your primary location goes down
  3. For project management, use web-based project tools

Indeed, there are some challenges with telecommuting. Workplaces that require tight team focus or a steady flow of client meetings may only be able to assign part of the workforce to telecommuting.

In other cases, workers may not want to be working from home for fear of isolation from the team and reduced opportunities for advancement. Managers may fear a misalignment of work schedules, abuse of worker freedom and other challenges. However, these fears are a consequence of old thinking. To prevent isolation have a regular staff lunch day and invite all remote staff in to feel connected.

As a manager, adapt your management style to focus on results without excessive scrutiny on worker habits. Is your home-based employee still sleeping at 11:00 a.m.? But, did they get today’s job done already at 3:00 a.m.? That’s all that matters. It is not the employers’ responsibility to scold night owls who prefer the quiet solitude of working during the wee hours. Let your employee decide when they are most productive. If their results are timely and accurate, then the process is working. When you hire someone from the other side of the globe, the standard 9 to 5 work lines are going to be blurred anyway. Why not extend those blurred lines to your own local staff?

To avoid problems related to having to retract a failed telecommuting arrangement, always start with a trial period after which both parties can assess the effectiveness of the situation.

On a grander scale telecommuting is contributing to the decentralization of our workforce. Big city stresses and stifling population densities are finding relief in the fact that telecommuters do not need to physically be anywhere near the big cities. For example, think of McDonalds’ radical remote drive thru concept. Some restaurants have outsourced their drive thru order taking to a distant call center in North Dakota. The customer placing an order at a drive thru in sunny Los Angeles could very well be greeted by professional order-taker with a mid-Western accent who just arrived at work through snow and ice.

Whatever your business or career, if telecommuting is a possibility, then the benefits are more than simply higher productivity and worker contentment. You may even reduce your “carbon footprint” by converting a tiresome “daily commute” into an invigorating daily “tele-commute”. That alone is reason enough to consider the option. Give it a try.

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