Telecommuting, e-work, telework or just simply “working from home” has been a growing trend worldwide for some years now. In Costa Rica, the public sector has recently taken notice of its benefits, while private sector companies are increasingly opening to this technology-driven opportunity as well.
Telecommuting, which saves the companies adopting it expense, and the employees chosen to work from home money, time and the hassle of transporting oneself to work every day, is being adopted by companies throughout the country.
Alfredo Guzmán, commercial specialist at the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) said at least 11 of its member companies have implemented a telework initiative in the last four months, representing about 1,800 people working from home.
The majority of AMCHAM affiliates putting telecommuting into practice belong to the technology and outsourcing sectors, in particular accounting and complaint services, Guzmán said.
AMCHAM currently offers a telecommuting toolkit free of charge on its web site: www.amcham.co.cr/amcham_guanacaste.php, for anyone interested in implementing a telejobs strategy.
AMCHAM posted the toolkit last November with the goal of inspiring companies, both members and non-members, to adopt telecommuting.
“Sending qualified employees to work from home represents …savings for both the company and the employee,” Guzmán said. Employers save money in electricity, telephone and the office space not used by the employee who works from home. Employees save money in transportation, food, clothing, convenience and in how they distribute their own time, Guzmán explained.
Most recently, the National Power and Light Company (CNFL) started implementing its pilot program this week when Herley Sánchez, a human resources coordinator at CNFL, felt inspired to organize such a program at the company after watching television program on teleworking in Argentina.
The first set of 10 workers participating in CNFL’s program include engineers, technicians, lawyers, call center workers and two handicapped employees.
Sánchez says she is most pleased about helping the two handicapped employees who had previously spent an hour and a half traveling to work every morning. By the end of the year, CNFL plans to have 10 percent of its staff working from home, or about 200 workers.
According to Sánchez, the company estimates that it would save from ¢60,000 ($107)to ¢100,000 ($175) per month for every employee working from home.
However, if you think working from home is an easy option, think again. The process that a company should go through in order to determine if an employee qualifies for this program can take up to three months.
For example, psychological tests that establish if an employee’s home is a suitable work place are undertaken, during which the company visits the home of the employee and interviews his or her family to determine whether the employer would be free of distractions and temptations while at home.
At CNFL, the employee is also tested to make sure he or she does not suffer from dependent anxiety, depression, and alcoholism or drug abuse, conditions that can worsen if the employee is working unsupervised at home.
The employer must make sure the employee can work independently and that the worker has a proven record of being responsible in the work place.
“In order for this policy to be embraced we need to break the myth that the employer must be breathing down the neck of the employee in order to guarantee production,” Sánchez explained.
Performance evaluation and goals setting are established before the employees begin teleworking.
“Production levels have been proven to increase with this type of work policy,” Sánchez said.
The ideal teleworker is someone who has proven capacity to work independently and has met or exceeded goals previously put in place by the employer.
CNFL will create a teleconferencing office where managers or supervisors can talk to the employers working from home quickly and privately. “This would help maintain the constant communication flow needed in this type of program,” Sánchez insisted.
In addition, Guzmán says companies have to be careful not to attempt to control their teleworker excessively. Since workers are in their homes, a certain level of privacy should be respected. For example, the use of cameras to record what the teleworker does or does not do at any given time would be a misuse of this policy, Guzmán says.
So far, at least nine public institutions such as the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, the Foreign Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER), Banco de Costa Rica and other public agencies have implemented telejobs programs, enabling almost 300 employees to work from home.