Telecommuting Technology and Remote Agents
With technology from Database Systems Corp., the concept of a virtual call center is now a practical reality. Consider having your call center workforce accepting and making calls from remote offices or even from home. Also consider having monitoring and control technology in place to make this scenario possible. Perhaps even your supervisors are working from home as well. Also consider having a phone system that answers your customer inquiries on its own, but with agents available if ever needed. This phone system can even contact your customers or prospects with announcements and alerts.
Allowing your employees to work from home gives you a competitive edge over traditional call centers. Now you can hire highly qualified individuals who could not otherwise commute to your center. Handicapped individuals, single parents and the elderly can now become an integral part of your remote workforce.
The following is an article relating to telecommuting technology products and services.
Telecommuting as a True Workplace Alternative
From: The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
By: Kelli A. Green, Mayra López, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner
Global technology has quickly progressed to
provide more accessible business modes of
communication. Telecommuting, which is described
as the practice of establishing, developing, and
maintaining successful off-site business practices
through telecommunication practices, is currently
paving the way to a potentially more efficient
communication system in the workplace. Current
workplace trends are promoting more flexibility for
associates (employees) and tailoring jobs to fit
individual needs. The image of the traditional
workplace as a particular place to go to work is being
replaced with associates working wherever they can
be most efficient and productive, whether at home, on
a plane, on the road, or a telework center. The
availability of affordable technology has been one of
the major contributors to the "any time, any place"
telecommuting trend. Telecommuting is a work
option that has steadily gained in popularity and
commands a strong position as a viable alternative in
the business world. Telecommuting is intended to
provide a better quality of life for associates and
promote better job performance.
This document includes a detailed description
and definition of telecommuting, lists the desirable
traits of telemanagers and teleworkers, and discusses
the benefits and challenges of telecommuting.
Managers and associates seeking teleworking
jobs should understand the issues related to
telecommuting. While telecommuting is a great work
option, it is not for everyone. Some do not possess the
required qualities and attitudes required in
telecommuting. For example, a desire to work at
home does not automatically qualify an associate for
The terms "telecommuting" and "teleworking"
are used somewhat interchangeably. "Teleworking"
is probably a more accurate description of what
actually occurs, but “telecommuting" continues to
be the more commonly used term. Telecommuting is
a word created by Dr. Jack M. Nilles when he was
director of information technology at the University
of Southern California (Roberto, 2001).
Telecommuting is defined as an alternative way of
accomplishing work tasks while at the same time
providing a variety of benefits to organizations,
associates, communities, and the environment.
Telecommuting replaces the traditional workplace via
telephones, computers, and other telecommunications
equipment at off-site locations.
Telecommuting work arrangements have a
variety of forms, depending on the needs of
associates and employers. Part-time telework (one to
two days per week) allows associates to avoid daily
commutes to and from a main office, which may or
may not be easily accessible. Part-time
telecommuting associates include editors and
designers who often work as freelancers. Full-time
telecommuting associates (four to five days per
week) work as "virtual teams" who assemble
electronically from a variety of physical locations to
solve business problems (ITAC, 2002). For instance,
medical transcriptionists who work from home or a
teleworking center for an established national service.
There may be special requirements for full-time
teleworkers (e.g., training or years of work
The availability of more affordable technology
has led companies to consider telecommuting as an
alternative work arrangement. A tight job market, the
fierce competition for talent, and the record high
turnover among associates are several reasons why
many executives see telecommuting as a benefit to
entice new recruits. Another factor fueling the
telecommuting trend is the high price of commercial
real estate (ITAC, 2002). An office-space crunch in
major U.S. cities has forced employers to become
more creative when it comes to hiring. Instead of
leasing new office space or expanding existing office
buildings, it is vastly less expensive to provide
associates with laptops and phone lines to work from
the convenience of their own homes.
Telecommuting can assist employers in meeting
government regulations relating to employing
persons with disabilities, who may find daily
commuting difficult. Telecommuting provides
companies the opportunity to successfully integrate
workers with disabilities and pregnant associates into
the workplace. Also, the Federal Clean Air Act
requires employers to reduce driving by their
associates, so telecommuting is an easy and simple
way to meet this requirement (Communications
Perhaps the most compelling reason for the
move toward telecommuting is the change in the
nature of work itself. More Americans are moving
from manufacturing jobs to information-oriented
jobs, which lend themselves to working away from a
central office. The advancement of high-speed
Internet connections and increased residential
multiple phones and fax lines has helped increase the
number of telecommuters in the United States from
8.7 million in 1996 to about 18.0 million in 2000
Both the public and private business sectors have
embraced telecommuting. Early adopters of
telecommuting in the private sector included
insurance, telecommunications, transportation,
healthcare, and advanced technology companies
Who Will Telecommute?
Successful telecommuting requires four main
elements: the right work, the right associate, the right
supervisor, and the right top management support.
These four elements must meet the set standards and
practices of telecommuting.
Mandatory practices for a successful
telecommuting business can be easily identified.
First, it is imperative that top management and human
resources, information systems, and contracts/legal
departments provide organizational support for a
telecommuting program to succeed. They can do this
by adhering to the following guidelines:
Not all jobs lend themselves to telecommuting.
For instance, jobs that involve direct management,
face-to-face contact with customers, frequent
meetings, manufacturing and warehousing of goods,
purchasing, and facility management are not suitable
for telecommuting operations. Jobs that do lend
themselves to telecommuting include systems and
information managers, writers, financial managers,
computer programmers, auditing reports, data entry,
medical transcription, billing, dispatching, appraising,
court transcription, claims processing, filling orders,
scheduling, researching, computer programming,
record keeping, and writing (DVR, 2002).
- Develop effective telecommuting business
- Plan for technical equipment and support for the
- Select and properly train telecommuters.
- Prepare managers for telecommuting
- Regularly evaluate and analyze the program.
Successful telecommuters are self-starters who
have proven their ability to do the job well with
minimal supervision. They know how to organize
their work, manage their time, and work well with
telemanagers. In addition, they have low socialization
needs and good communication skills, are
trustworthy, and advocate the telework concept
Benefits of Telecommuting
Benefits for associates include improved work
environment; increased productivity; more
autonomy; greater lifestyle flexibility; reduced stress;
work satisfaction; motivation; and decreased
transportation, food, and clothing costs (Innovisions
Canada, 2002a). Telecommuting also provides easier
work conditions for workers with disabilities. The
ideal teleworker must be highly productive in an
Employers can benefit from telecommuting
because it saves office-space and parking
requirements, which reduces overhead costs;
increases labor productivity, which means higher
profits; and provides additional recruitment and
retention options due to a larger, talented labor pool.
Telecommuting also reduces business disruptions due
to emergencies, including snow, storms, floods,
power outages, strikes, and illnesses (Innovisions
Challenges of Telecommuting
There are several challenges facing
telecommuting. Some teleworkers have complained
of social isolation, so it is important for the company
to maintain some type of social contact with
teleworkers (Innovisions Canada, 2002a). For
instance, regular office meetings.
Due to the distraction factor, teleworkers should
separate their work from other activities. Creating a
physical boundary between work and other activities
is a good solution. Other challenges include fewer
career and promotional opportunities due to isolation,
the potential for longer work hours, and diminished
access to resources in the workplace (Innovisions
Despite the trend toward empowering associates,
many managers are uneasy about telecommuting
programs that remove associates from a physical
workplace. Managers need to carefully coordinate
activities, clearly communicate expectations, help
associates avoid isolation, and select individuals with
the right work habits for telecommuting. To do this,
some managers schedule non-optional meetings on a
Other challenging factors of telecommuting
include problems associated with maintaining
security of information and files via telecommuting
and the lack of group stimulation and impromptu
discussions that increase productivity and creativity.
One of the biggest obstacles for employers is the
issue of control. Because monitoring performance is
more difficult for those working at home, managers
often do not recognize the contributions made by
teleworkers by way of good performance reviews and
promotions. Teleworkers are often not provided clear
performance goals by their managers, who sometimes
mistake useful work with physical presence.
Skills a Telemanager Should Possess
Managing telecommuters takes a lot of talent. It
also involves learning new applications and skills
through specialized education and training. In the
traditional office setting, it is much easier for
managers to account for what work is and is not being
done and who is doing or not doing the work. Critics
of telecommuting fear that telecommuting will
prevent managers from keeping track of what
associates are doing and that there is too much
opportunity for the associates to slack off (Reimer,
Telemanagers must possess exceptional people
skills. People who are promoted to management
usually have years of experience doing a particular
job or a variety of jobs within an organization, which
provided them with the knowledge and skill to lead
and teach others (Goulden, 2002).
Ability to Read People
People skills are important. It is mandatory for
telemanagers to possess the ability to read people, to
understand what is being said and not said, simply by
the tone of voice or words being used. Non-effective
telemanagers do not listen and therefore miss
important cues necessary for successful
telecommuting. In some cases the only
communication between managers and associates is
via e-mail or telephone. Therefore, the need to
communicate well can never be overstated.
Empathy in Praise and Discipline
Good telemanagers are able to determine when
associates need to be encouraged or disciplined.
Depending on the job and duties, there are times when
it becomes necessary to provide a gentle push to get
associates to complete required tasks; an effective
manager will know when it is appropriate to do so.
Telemanagers also need to be willing to accept new
ideas and new ways of thinking (ITAC, 2002). It is
beneficial to businesses to encourage teleworkers to
make suggestions or bring forth ideas that can
Managers who like to micromanage are unlikely
to succeed in telecommuting. One method to help
micromanagers is to include timetables in the
telecommuting policy regarding such things as
meeting schedules (Reimer, 1998).
Knowing When to Interface with Associates
Leadership skills involve knowing when and
when not to communicate as a leader. Telecommuting
managers must realize that too many meetings will
prevent telecommuters from doing their jobs. Not
enough meetings can cause telecommuters to feel
isolated from their co-associates. Achieving a delicate
balance between work efficiency and communication
may be difficult and take time. Teleworkers should
not feel that managers are constantly checking up on
Keeping Track of Teleworkers
Effective telemanagers always know the status
of their associates' projects. There are a variety of
ways to accomplish this (e.g., bulletin board postings
to the Internet). Experimenting with different
methods may prove necessary to find the right fit for
both managers and associates (Reimer, 1998).
The greatest and most valuable skill in
telecommuting is mutual trust between managers and
associates (ITAC, 2002). Mutual trust makes for a
better and more productive work environment.
Telecommuting (establishing, developing, and
maintaining successful off-site business practices
through telecommunication) can pave the way to a
more efficient communication system in the
workplace. This document has addressed the current
trends, advantages, and disadvantages of this process.
It has also suggested effective practices and the
necessary skills for managing teleworkers.
It is imperative to understand that
telecommunication is an alternative option and not a
substitute for person-to-person contact associated
with traditional business settings. When it comes to
understanding, research has suggested that 75 percent
of communication is non-verbal (Management
Today, 2000). This is alarming when considering
telecommuting as a viable business alternative.
Because of this data, it may be more beneficial to use
telecommuting in conjunction with traditional forms
and methods of business practices.
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