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How to keep 'work from home' employees accountable--without spying

Liane Cassavoy | April 2, 2013
We all hear the jokes about employees not-really-working at home. If you're not sure what remote employees are up to, use these tech tools and management tips to get the most out of them and take the worry out of your work-at-home policy. (Surprise: Spying is not the best answer.)

I've been a part-time, work-from-home employee for years now. And yes, I do work. A lot. Still, I hear whispers from coworkers who wonder if I'm just avoiding a commute to spend quality time with my laundry. And then there are the moms I meet at the park on my day off--the ones who say they love "working from home" (complete with air quotes) because it "gives me so much free time."

They're giving me a bad name. But my bigger concern is whether my boss knows how much work I'm doing.

Working from home. Working remotely. Telecommuting. No matter what you call it, working from anywhere other than your company's office has gotten a bad rap lately. With Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer instituting a ban on the practice, and Best Buy setting strict limits on its work-from-home policy, the news has been negative for both managers and employees who rely on the flexibility that telecommuting can offer.

Telecommuters and the bosses who employ us, take heart. Today, telecommuting is easier than ever, thanks in large part to a host of free and low-cost products that can help keep remote employees productive, accountable, and in touch. Most of the tools are so cost-effective and easy to use that even the smallest of small businesses can rely on them.

Don't buy the badmouthing

Flexible work arrangements have thrived since the advent of high-speed Internet, and they've gained further steam with the rise of the smartphone. Sometimes the scheduling entails letting on-site employees work from home one or two days a week; but frequently companies hire employees who live in distant states and different time zones. Unfortunately, Yahoo's new telecommuting policy, which is set to go into effect in June, casts these arrangements in a bad light.

Most of the tech startup's employees work in the same office, alongside contractors and interns. The right software keeps remote stagg in the loop and on equal footing.

Mayer reportedly made the decision after checking the company's VPN logs to see how often remote employees were logging in. Evidently, she didn't like what she saw. The resulting media excitement added to fuel to the fire for those who think that employees working at home aren't putting in an honest day's work.

The bad press shouldn't terminate telecommuting for everyone, however. We talked to several CEOs, HR managers, and IT folks at small and midsize businesses to find out what they do to ensure that their remote workers actually work. All of the folks we interviewed agree: Making arrangements for remote workers can make both employers and employees happier. Work-from-home arrangements can also maximize time on the clock and save everyone money. Better still, companies can monitor telecommuting without ever checking a VPN log.


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