Business managers may recognize the benefits of working from home. You can roll out of bed, get in front of your laptop and run a meeting, all while you are still in your robe and slippers. Most employees seem to quickly adapt to telecommuting, too, although some may miss the social aspects of going to an office. And hardly anyone regrets the lack of a commute.

On the flip side, there are potential distractions at home, such as time spent on cooking, cleaning and carpooling the children. Can telecommuters be as productive as they would be if they were working regular hours at an office? It may depend on how the situation is managed. Here are five ways to increase the chance for a successful transition.

  1. Plan ahead. Whether employees are allowed to work from home for either one or two days or the entire week, it is important to develop a plan. Typically, the first step is to determine which activities can be handled at home and which should stay at the corporate headquarters. For instance, it may be feasible to have salespeople working off-site, especially if they do not require supervision, but you might keep human resources personnel in the office.
  2. Understand how the technology works. After choosing the software and tools that employees will need for their daily activities, find out how often they will use them and to what extent security risks are involved. Try to circumvent technical glitches and data leaks. Typically, a company may use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to provide encryption between employees working at home on their own connections and the company’s internal network. Additional security measures may be adopted. See an expert in the field for details.
  3. Monitor the proceedings. Although you do not have to account for every minute spent on the job, it is a good idea to lay out some basic ground rules. You don’t want employees skipping work to take in movie matinees or attend after-school athletic events—not to mention wasting time in front of the television. Note that most remote office and telecommuting packages have built-in auditing features. Caution: Check into state laws concerning the rights of employees in this area. Based on your findings, you may have employees sign a waiver allowing them to be monitored.
  4. Hold teleconferences. Of course, “reading into” facial expressions and hearing vocal intonations is preferable to e-mail, which is easy to misconstrue. If the staff is working remotely, a teleconference is the next best thing to actually being there. Providers such as Gmail and Skype offer secure options for free, while other instant messaging services may offer teleconferencing options.
  5. Keep records. Project management software can ease the burden. Not only does it enable you to view tasks, deadlines, status and expected completion dates but it allows the entire group to share documents online.

Naturally, telecommuting is not the best approach for every business, but more owners and managers are considering the possibilities. If you decide to try it, rely on a well-designed plan that utilizes technology but still remains secure.