Telecommuting. Employees long for it, but many employers still have their doubts. For some employers, the obstacle to embracing telecommuting stems from a lack of trust in employees about flexible work arrangements.
For others, trust isn't the issue, but a lack of experience in how to approach this arrangement is creating the roadblock. However, with the right strategy in place, implementing a telecommuting program for your company can be a step in the right direction for all parties -- and can help improve employee engagement.
Where Should You Start?
First, outline a document with the reasons for the company's decision to consider telecommuting as an employee option. Create a list of the benefits associated with telecommuting. This is the easy part. Among the many employer/employee benefits are the potential for reduced commuting, improved staff morale, etc.
Next, create a list of each change that is necessary for the company to launch its telecommuting program, i.e., what policies are necessary, what equipment will have to be purchased, which management issues need to be addressed, etc. Set guidelines regarding acceptable investments in equipment and office supplies as well.
It's Policy Time
Yes, even something as progressive as a telecommuting strategy requires policy and procedural guidelines. Your first step should be to define what telecommuting means for your organization. This isn't as easy as it sounds, since the definition of telecommuting will vary (at least slightly) for each company.
Next, create a Telecommuting Request Form that you can use to consistently evaluate each employee's fit (and cost) as a telecommuting candidate.
It's also important to create a Telecommuting Agreement that eligible employees should review and sign. This agreement will include the following:
- A definition of the telecommuter's work schedule
- An outline of the probationary period, if applicable
- A list of all work-related items provided by the company
Your Telecommuting Agreement should also include acknowledgement that the employee:
- Will take precautions to protect company items from damage or theft
- Will return all company property upon termination or resignation of employment
- Is responsible for addressing legal or tax-related issues that arise from his or her use of the home as a place of business
Who Gets to Telecommute?
Once you've determined that telecommuting will work for your organization, how will you decide which employees are good candidates for telecommuting? Begin by establishing a series of standards that you will apply to every telecommuting request you receive.
First and foremost, the type of position the employee has will be the primary factor in determining whether telecommuting is a viable option for them. Many positions will quickly be eliminated from consideration because they require too much supervision or daily involvement at the office to be practical for telecommuting. However, other positions may be ideal for telecommuting.
Each job description should be analyzed to determine the feasibility of an off-site work arrangement. The suitability of a home working environment should also be assessed. In order to work effectively, the telecommuting employee will need a home-based office area with proper lighting and office furniture.
Next, an employee's tenure with the company can be used as a criterion in your decision-making process. Many companies require a minimum number of months of consecutive employment in order for employees to be eligible for telecommuting. By doing so, employers reward loyal staff and feel more confident that these employees will succeed in this type of arrangement.
Finally, employers place a great deal of trust in employees who work off-site. For this reason, employees with disciplinary problems should not qualify for telecommuting privileges. Establish a time period during which an employee's discipline record must be clear prior to telecommuting eligibility.
Similarly, employees with an above-average job performance history should be considered strong candidates for telecommuting. And, generally speaking, the most successful telecommuters are those who can utilize phone, email, and in-person communication with colleagues for support and guidance.
As the trend for shrinking office space and telecommuting increases, and more workers dream of trading suits for bathrobes and sensible shoes for fuzzy slippers, the need for best practices in this area is clear.
Taking the time to carefully craft a telecommuting strategy that meets the needs of both employee and employer will lay a strong foundation for shared telecommuting success.
Typical elements of a telecommuting policy:
- Procedure to request a telecommuting arrangement
- Statement that telecommuting is an employee privilege, and is not appropriate for all employees
- Statement of compliance with existing and future OSHA and worker's compensation regulations
- Timekeeping and compensation guidelines
- Guidelines for required communication by phone and email with supervisors and managers
- Statement of employer's ability to discontinue telecommuting arrangement with notice