Managing Telecommuters: A Boss’s Perspective


Jet Blue’s got the right idea.  All of their reservation agents work from home.  They have created an entire webwork of telecommuters by using a computer network that feeds and monitors incoming calls to their at-home staff .

When I called Jet Blue to book a recent flight the reservation agent was very professional and pleasant.  If I hadn’t read about their telecommuting practices, I never would have known the difference.  At the end of the conversation I asked the agent, tongue in cheek, if she wears her bunny slippers to work (I couldn’t help myself).  She laughed, but didn’t answer.  I bet she does.

From a customer’s perspective, I appreciate the savings I get from Jet Blue’s cost cutting practices like the lack overhead for the reservations department.  From a boss’s perspective, I was inspired by their system of managing telecommuting employees. According to an article on cbsnews.com, Jet Blue had a 25% increase in productivity the minute they switched to this work-from-home system that accurately keeps track of each telecommuter’s work hours and performance feedback.

But how do the rest of us quantify our telecommuters’ work?   This is one of the biggest questions we bosses have about employees working from home.  How do I know how much they are working?

My first telecommuting employee, Laurel S., trained me to be a telecommuter’s boss.   She’s a sharp, professional woman who had many years of casting experience before she began working with us.  When she first suggested she work from home, I was skeptical.  I liked her work and I trusted her but the idea bothered me.  Would I have the same control over quality?  How would I know how much time she spent ‘at work’?  But Laurel is a professional through and through.  She immediately set the right tone by changing her out-going phone message to sound like an office.  Then, through our work together she showed me that telecommuting can work well if you do it right.

With time I began to change my perspective on what I expected from my employees.  Rather than hold them to a time-oriented schedule, whenever possible we work from a task-oriented schedule.  Now, if someone needs to pick up their child everyday at 3PM, I’m not so uptight about it.  Clearly in some situations telecommuting doesn’t work but it often can, especially with the right tools.

Telecommuting tools became very important for us.  Our work is collaborative and I’m an admitted micro-manager.  To make telecommuting work, we needed several easy and flexible options.  For virtual meetings with either employees or clients I like Skype the best.  It works very well for one-on-one meetings or if one person Skypes in as part of a larger live meeting.  For phone meetings we use an 800 number conference call system and for quick notes throughout the day, ichat, IM or email work well.

Also helpful are online tools like white boards and file sharing to replace that ‘brick and morder’ wall we all used to walk past.   As a casting office, we use these kinds of tools to post client names, contact numbers and production notes but they can be used for any kind of information.

Like anything, telecommuting isn’t perfect.  There are times when I wished I was phsically in the office or that my assistant could go get me lunch but the pros outweigh the cons.  As far as our clients go, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in attitude toward our telecommuting practices.  Our casting work is as good or better than ever and the fact that we can work remotely has a definite ‘cool factor’.