Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's recent decision to end the company's work-from-home policy has sparked much debate on the merits of allowing employees to work remotely. How do you know if telecommuting makes sense for your company? Here are three questions to consider that can help you make the right decision.
1. What are the Benefits of Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is a type of flexible work arrangement that allows an employee to work from an alternate workplace, such as from home or another remote location, during all or part of the workweek. Conducting virtual work by remote access and other means allows companies to:
- Recruit and Retain Valuable Employees. Telecommuting is an attractive benefit to many employees. In addition to increasing an employer's ability to retain high-performing employees, the option for telecommuting also increases an employer's flexibility in recruiting new individuals. It may enable a company to attract an employee who is otherwise unavailable because of geographical restraints or time limitations.
- Improve Work-Life Balance. Telecommuting allows employees to better manage their work and family obligations. Working from home also eliminates the hassle of commuting, which frees up time to attend to family and personal matters.
- Increase Productivity and Decrease Absenteeism. Employees who telecommute may work more efficiently without office-related distractions and interruptions. Telecommuting also shows employees that the company trusts them to get the job done without direct supervision. These benefits can improve job satisfaction and motivate employees to work harder. In addition, telecommuters may be able to work from home when a minor illness or sick child keeps them from the office.
- Ensure Continuity of Operations During Emergency Events. Telecommuting can help mitigate business disruption during natural disasters, bad weather, and other emergencies.
2. Which Jobs (and Employees) are Good Candidates for Telecommuting?
Certain positions are better suited for telecommuting than others. Consider carefully whether allowing employees to telecommute will cause difficulties in ensuring office coverage and availability, particularly in industries that require frequent personal interaction with customers, clients, or the public. Examples of tasks and functions that are generally well-suited for telecommuting include:
- Data processing;
- Telephone-intensive tasks;
- Computer-oriented tasks (programming, data entry, word processing, etc.);
- Intensive thinking and writing tasks (policies, programs, papers, etc.);
- Project-based work; and
- Computer-based training.
In some instances, the job itself may be a good candidate for telecommuting—but the employee is not. Consider the following factors in analyzing an employee's telecommuting capabilities:
- Do the employee's responsibilities include sufficient "portable" work for the amount of telework?
- Has the employee demonstrated the ability to work independently, without close supervision?
- Is the employee comfortable with the technology needed to telecommute?
- Does the employee communicate effectively with his or her supervisor and co-workers to enable a relatively seamless transition from the office to the alternative workplace?
- Does the employee have sufficient office space at the alternative location in order to get work done?
Be sure that your telecommuting policy and practices do not have the effect of discriminating on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color, religion, or any other protected class. Also keep in mind that permitting an employee to work from home may serve as a reasonable accommodation if he or she has a disability that prevents successful performance of the job on-site, and the job (or parts of it) can be performed at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.
3. How Will Expectations for Telecommuting Be Defined?
One of the key steps in establishing an effective telecommuting policy is to clearly define the expectations for both the company and employees. Consider the following issues that may need to be addressed:
- Scheduling. What will the telecommuting schedule look like? Will the hours be the same as in the main office, or will they be different? How will managers and co-workers be kept updated about an employee's schedule? What happens if the schedule needs to be changed?
- Performance Management. How will telecommuting employees be supervised? Remember that the performance standards for teleworking employees should be the same as those for non-teleworking employees. Performance standards should not create inequities or inconsistencies between teleworking and non-teleworking employees.
- Communication. What is expected of the employee with respect to availability by phone, email, etc.? How much notice will be given for the employee to report to the office and how will such notice be provided?
- Technology. Who provides the equipment (including hardware and software) for telecommuting employees? Who is responsible for maintaining the equipment and for providing technical assistance in the event of an equipment disruption?
- Safeguarding of Information and Data. Are employees able to maintain the security of materials such as files, correspondence, and equipment as necessary? What about security protocols for remote connectivity? Depending on the sensitivity of the information being handled, a home office may need to include security measures such as locked file cabinets, similar to what may be used at the official worksite.
For More Information
It's a good idea for employers to work with a knowledgeable employment law attorney when creating a policy on telecommuting, to ensure that the company's policy and practices are in compliance with the law and do not unlawfully discriminate against certain employees. Our section on Fringe Benefits includes information on other types of flexible work arrangements.
And don’t forget to download our FREE 2013 Health Care Reform Checklist, a simple way to review key changes that could impact your company this year.
Image Credit: jnyemb