Telecommuting is more often than not a boon for both the remote worker and their company. Telecommuters are less likely to quit their job, very likely to have high morale and more likely to not only work productively but save their employer money. But the question has remained: Are companies really getting their money’s worth when they allow employees to work from home? What assets and tools are needed to track an employee’s work day?
Having to deal with tracking a telecommuter is becoming a relatively common issue. By the strictest estimate, telecommuting rose 79 percent between 2005 and 2012, up to 3.2 million full-time workers who work for an outside company at least half the time. Almost as much as 30 percent of the workforce can be called remote workers if workers such as construction workers, plumbers, or people who work at home one day or less a week are included.
The percentage of remote workers is likely to level off, only so many people can do their job outside an office setting, but we may see more people working remotely occasionally, or more companies that are comprised entirely of telecommuters. With more remote workers comes more uncertainty of how these employees should be paid, especially if they’re on an hourly salary.
An increasingly mobile and technologically savvy workforce requires equally savvy solutions. Here are three kinds of tools that companies can use to track their employees’ work flow, ensure they have the assets they need (and that the company will get them back), and maintain connections to their employees to keep them engaged.
The truth is, most time management systems are woefully out of date with the times, regardless of whether they track remote or in-office workers. Asking employees to fill out timesheets retrospectively is both a waste of their time and likely to produce inaccurate records. This is essentially the same problem that companies have with remote workers, insecurity about actual time worked. There are, however, plenty of 21st century solutions.
Automated time and attendance systems not only tend to save their businesses money on annual hourly payroll expense, but makes the process of time record-keeping easy. Good systems have a web-based clock-in and-out for remote employees, and keeps track of things like time taken for breaks and lunches, or makes information such as remaining vacation time available to both the worker and their manager. Some can even detect the task you’re doing and track it for you, ensuring accuracy.
Any qualms that managers have regarding their employees and time theft should be more pressing for the workers that are in the office, where buddies can punch in for them or they can be just as sneaky as any remote worker who wants to goof off while on the clock. A time and attendance system used for all employees, across the board, should eliminate time fraud.
Just because an employee isn’t in the office doesn’t mean they’re not using the office’s fixed assets. Fixed assets are the assets purchased for long-term use and are used in the production of income. This includes office equipment such as printers and furniture, but also more mobile items such as laptops, tablets and vehicles.
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Whether an employee is at their desk at home but plugging away on a company laptop, or they’re out in the field using a mobile computer to update a database with new information, they’re using company property that needs to be accurately tracked, as well as depreciated properly for tax purposes.
Just like the remote workers themselves, assets used by remote workers can sometimes be relegated to “out of sight, out of mind” status. This may be part of the reason why fixed assets are so commonly misplaced, lost outright or even stolen, a practice that can cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The ramifications of asset misappropriation are huge. Missing assets end up becoming “ghost assets” on the company ledger, which make audit periods more of a nightmare than they already are and add unnecessary costs to the company tax bill. On top of that, if a company still relies on spreadsheets to track their assets, it’s more than likely that those spreadsheets contain errors of some kind and that misinformation has a ripple effect that continues to bog down auditing and the process of buying assets to replace ones that have gone missing, or are otherwise not available.
A quality asset management system, which uses automated software, requires employees to check-in and check-out whatever company assets they need, providing a centralized record that can be accessed at any time. Other perks of good asset management systems include the ability to track the need for periodic maintenance; an alert system that reminds everyone involved when assets are overdue to be returned or need to be disposed of; connectivity with mobile devices and cloud-computing so new information can be added to the database on the fly. This system should be in place for employers who work in the office, and shouldn’t be any different for remote workers, working outside the office does not make one exempt from contributing to the company’s record-keeping, organization and continuity.
The common theme across every facet of working with remote employees is that they should be treated as much like a “regular” employee as possible. That means tracking their hours the same way, enforcing their use of asset management software the same way, and communicating with them as much as you would someone in the next cubicle over.
Obviously, it’s more difficult to communicate on the fly with a remote employee, since there are fewer opportunities to run into that person in the breakroom or pass by their office. But making consistent communication a standard practice can help make remote employees more a part of the team and engaged with the projects at hand.
Our increasingly connected world makes this task easier than in years past. Apps such as Slack and Yammer are helpful for centralizing communication and collaboration in one place. Send messages, organize meetings and stay in touch with notifications send through these apps, rather than opening up your email and crafting a new message. Imagine if every impromptu meeting around the water cooler was archived and searchable, that’s what an app like Slack can do for remote workers and their superiors.
Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, so many companies use tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts to have live, personalized meetings with their remote workers. It’s also a good idea to schedule in-person meetings when possible, at least once a quarter is a good way to stay in touch with remote employees. And don’t marginalize these meetings: If you’ve made a commitment to meet, keep it.
Telecommuting is only going to become more socially acceptable and perhaps preferred by new employees (or entire companies) as we move forward into a digitally enhanced future. Having the right tools, in communication, asset tracking and time management, is the best way to ensure your company is prepared to move beyond the four traditional walls and out into the world.
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