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Carrying On: Employees, Home Offices and Flexibility

That's fine for part-time remote/ mobile users, you say, but full-time teleworkers needs more. For those employees, figure in the cost of equipment (a laptop, a printer/fax device, backup), software (remote administration, security), support and other overhead, and the ultimate remote-office infrastructure still comes in at less than $400 per month. If that sounds expensive, consider that the full cost of providing space in a commercial office can be more than double.

There are many other benefits beyond cost. Employees who are happy with their jobs and have the right tools are more productive. Workers enjoy more flexible hours, a perk that is often valued more than a higher salary. And they aren't tied up in daily commutes, a huge waste of time and money with no benefit to anyone but the toll tag people.

But it isn't economic justification that's the big stumbling block to adopting this strategy. It's getting business leaders to establish the right usage policy. It's not an either/or proposition: Teleworking isn't going to be a fit for every job or individual. Some jobs, for instance, require you to be in a specific physical location. But the most focused and independent workers--typically the best performers--will excel no matter where they are. Managing a distributed work force requires some new thinking, too, shifting the emphasis from just showing up in the office to whether broader goals are being met.

Too many companies make remote-office services available only to their highest-ranking employees, even if those execs don't make the best use of them. One major agricultural company provides its top brass with private frame relay connections and PBX extensions, spending hundreds of dollars a month on systems used for a few hours a week by people who have their assistants print out their e-mail. For the same expense, the company could service 10 times the number of part-time users over the public IP network and have people actually use the services.

Policies must adapt to market changes, too. A financial-services company refuses to provide mobile phones for employees, not because some workers don't need them, but because someone fantasized that personal use of a company-provided cell phone might be a form of compensation and therefore taxable income. So employees buy their own cell phones and charge minutes back to the company, requiring three levels of authorization to process the expenses every month. The policy misses the fact that few mobile plans charge for incremental usage anymore, especially in the evening hours when people are making personal calls.

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