The employee, not the job, is what makes telecommuting work

woman working from homeMore than 3.3 million American workers claim home as their primary workplace. The numbers of workers who perform at least some of their jobs at home have grown rapidly over the last two decades.

Telecommuting helps employers control their office-space costs. There is ample evidence that it increases employee job satisfaction, which improves retention. But does allowing some employees to telecommute improve a company’s performance?

A recent study by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute shows that not all telecommuting experiences are created equal.

The study focused on traits that successful telecommuters share and suggests that employers that approve telecommuting arrangements based on the employee—not the job description—have better results. That is, successful telecommuting depends at least as much on the person working at home as it does on the tasks he or she performs.

It may sound like common sense, but the best telecommuters are individuals who have a great deal of self-discipline and can work independently.

Also, the study suggests that telecommuting is best used in small doses.

Employees who work away from the office miss many of the social aspects of working in an office. These include key alliances that may help advance the individual’s career. Additionally, office interaction can often spur creativity that allows workers to solve problems and innovate.

The arrangement must work for both the employee and the employer. For example, allowing an employee to work from home may be a cost-effective alternative to having the worker from taking an entire day off to handle family responsibilities.

Telecommuting may be implemented on a trial basis for workers who request it: Perhaps one or two days a week working at home during the trial, followed by a review of the employee’s body of work after a few weeks.

Employers that permit telecommuting should make it clear that their remote employees must still meet deadlines and quality standards. Telecommuters should be continually evaluated to ensure they are meeting expectations.

Employers should develop objective, measurable standards for evaluating telecommuters’ performance to avoid charges of bias.