Telecommuting Policy Tips
By Claudia St. John, SPHR
Mobile technology, cloud-based work applications, internet phone and video conference services – all of these technologies have made business operations more efficient and cost effective. They have also given rise to a growing workplace trend: telecommuting.
By one estimate, 24% of workers telecommute at least some hours each week and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.6% of employees now work at least one day a week from home. The benefits of this highly popular work arrangement are clear – employees gain more control of their work/life balance and save on commuting costs while employers enjoy the benefits of increased employee productivity, morale and motivation.
But telecommuting can have its pitfalls. If you have or are considering rolling out a telecommuting program, it is important to put some things in place before your employee packs up her desk and heads to her home office. First and foremost, you should establish a policy that clearly defines the following points:
- Who Is Eligible – Not all positions are suitable for telecommuting and not all telecommuters are successful with the work arrangement. If you are going to allow it, be explicit about what performance levels are required and which positions and duties are suitable for telecommuting and which are not. You may want to define the different types of commuter you are allowing: full time, part time, occasional and as needed. And you will want to be clear about the fact that the company reserves the right to rescind the remote work arrangement at any time and without cause or notice.
- Compliance with Employment Law – Just because the employee is working from home does not relieve employers from their responsibilities under the law. Specifically, the employer is still responsible for Fair Labor Standards Act compliance, OSHA compliance, HIPPAA & FCRA compliance (depending on the nature of the work), and all other applicable federal and state laws. While legal compliance issues can be challenging for any businesses when it comes to employees working at home, you need to make a concerted effort to ensure that regulations like those covering wage and hour, and safety and health care are observed in the home office setting as well as at the workplace.
- Work Hours, Overtime & Leave – Telecommuting’s management challenges are particularly acute when considering non-exempt, hourly positions. Time management in particular is as important, if not more important for telecommuters than for at-work employees. Specifically, employees must carefully track and report their work hours, off-the-clock time and leave time. Overtime approval processes should also be established. And since there is no onsite manager in the home to confirm the actual numbers of hours worked, it is essential that the commuting relationship be built on a solid foundation of trust.
- Tools and Technology – It is important to establish what hardware, software and communication platforms the employee will have access to, how those systems are secured and how data are protected, and who will pay for them. Expectations about the maintenance and servicing of required tools and technology, such as home computers and the software to run critical programs, should also be spelled out.
With a clear policy in hand, the second challenge for managers is in crafting an approach to ensure the telecommuting arrangement is successful. Critical to success are two important factors: clarity around managing performance and strong communications between the home office and work.
- Clear Performance Management – Managing employees remotely is a challenge. Unless employees are producing tangible, measurable results each day, assessing their productivity and performance can be difficult. That said, studies have shown that telecommuters are, in fact, highly productive –it’s just difficult for managers to know this for certain.
If everyone is clear on what the expected objectives and accomplishments are, being able to assess productivity and performance is made much easier. Having a clearly defined set of expectations, regular feedback sessions and check-ins, along with a solid timeline, helps the remote manager better assess the productivity of his or her telecommuters.
- Strong Communications – Often, the telecommuter can become isolated or detached from the camaraderie of the work team, even if she is highly productive. She may suffer a sort of “out of sight, out of mind” experience. To keep the whole team engaged and connected, consider video-chatting regularly, frequent check-ins, even workplace team-building activities that involve the telecommuter. Feeling connected to the workplace is critically important to the telecommuter for one simple reason: if she feels the workplace doesn’t care about her, she won’t care about it and her work output will reflect that.
All of this boils down to the need to be clear about how you will structure and manage these arrangements. Perhaps the most important reason for being so deliberate, beyond the fact that it helps to address some of the questions and issues that frequently arise with both the occasional and the regular/full-time telecommuter, is that it adds legitimacy to the position, both for the telecommuter and within the organization as a whole. These increasingly popular types of work arrangements are no longer reserved for the stay-at-home mom and the transitioning retiree – they are a prevalent and growing form of work arrangement. Having a well-crafted policy, management and communications approach will go a long way toward ensuring your company gets the most out of telecommuting and that these arrangements contribute to your bottom line.
Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, IIABNY’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as IIABNY and their member companies. To learn more, visit www.affinityHRgroup.com.