Telecommuting offers a lot of benefits to both the employer and employees. For the company, the set up means a more cost-effective way of operating business functions because less energy is consumed for the performance of daily tasks. There is also little need to manage a huge workspace when most of the workers are accomplishing their assigned tasks from outside the office. For employees, working from home allows them to save from the expenses incurred commuting to and from the office. It also gives them an opportunity to spend more time with their families, as in the case of WAHM (work at home mom), and reduce work-related stress.

Developing a work-at-home policy: A guide for HR managers

Managing telecommuting programs is different from supervising actual workers in person. To maximize the benefit of telecommuting, it’s important for supervisors to learn how to work with remote teams from a virtual office.
Before anything else, however, you need to devise a policy that covers flexible work options and managing virtual workers. Such concepts as maintaining workplace flexibility and wage and hour laws must be taken into consideration.

Here are top ten tips in developing a telecommuting policy.

  1. Identify your business needs. It’s important to list how having people work from outside the office would benefit your business, and assess if the benefits outweigh the consequences. Your policy needs to sufficiently address the expectations of your company as far as work output and human resources are concerned.
  2. Identify who can telecommute. Understand that not everyone in your company can and should be allowed to work from home. Managing telecommuting arrangements means overseeing to the productivity of people who are not within shouting distance so you wouldn’t be able check on the quality of their output until the work is actually submitted to you. As such, developing a telecommuting policy needs to include creating requirements for those who want to telecommute. For instance, you need teleworkers who are organized, exhibit strong problem solving abilities, and have excellent communication skills, among other skill sets. Your policy should constitute a clear criterion for determining who can work from home so you can easily defend your decisions later on. Beyond the individual’s skill sets, you must also look into which positions in your organization lend themselves to telecommuting. Some positions will not be affected at all if the worker becomes a teleworker; others may be impossible to fill with a remote worker.
  3. Implement guidelines for dependent care. While working from home does have the added benefit of being able to spend more time with one’s family, it should not be taken as an alternative to making arrangements for dependent care. Work productivity will be compromised if the teleworker has to attend to the children while drafting documents for the virtual office.
  4. Formalize agreements on equipment Your policies should also consider the types of equipment that a telecommuter would need to be able to work efficiently out of the office. The agreement has to stipulate who will provide the equipment for the worker. Some companies provide computers and allowances for internet services to their remote teams while there are those who don’t. In the latter case, flexible work options are usually provided as alternatives to working in the office. Employees still have the choice to show up and finish their work in the conventional workspace provided for them.
  5. Ensure employee safety. It’s also important to make sure that your agreement clarifies who is responsible for employee safety when the worker is accomplishing his tasks from home. You can hold your workers accountable for maintaining the safety of their home workplace. In addition, you can provide a clause that allows you, the employer, to inspect the home workspace to make sure that it follows the guidelines stipulated in the agreement.
  6. Ensure confidentiality. Company information is another consideration when managing virtual workers. Business data may be compromised since workers are accessing them from outside the office. As such, it’s important to stipulate in the agreement ownership of information and company documents in case the employee leaves your company. This should be clearly spelled out and confidentiality of work information should also be underlined.
  7. Make sure that technology is available. If you’re going to hire virtual employees, you need to also include a technology checklist of what you require the applicant to have to qualify as a telecommuter. Technology is important when maintaining a virtual workspace, so new hires should have devices such as a dedicated phone line for business, three-way calling systems, high-speed internet access and fax machine among others.
  8. Wage and hour laws If unprepared, a human resource manager may be forced to face a minefield of issues on wage and hour laws. You need to navigate this carefully in order to avoid liability. Record and track all hours worked by employees who telecommute. You may consider installing timekeeping software for the equipment / computers given to employees, as punching the usual timeclock is not possible. Determine a system of properly compensating telecommuting workers for all hours worked, plus overtime (if they are not exempt). The biggest problem here is how to compensate telecommuting employees who sit idly, waiting for instructions. Keep in mind that telecommuters may be considered “on call” 24/7. Make sure that it is clear to the employees whether they “engaged to be waiting” (as in firemen, for whom the waiting time is working time) or “waiting to be engaged” (which means they can do what they like as long as they are available by email, cell, etc.)
  9. Quality metrics To gauge the effectiveness of a telecommuting program, you need to devise certain metrics for quality of service. It’s important for you to make sure that your employees are still performing according to your expectations. Just like in any work situation, quality, quantity, cost-effectiveness, and timeliness ate the four main measures to review. Once you have established performance measures, you need to establish a feedback system, which helps maintain good performance. Additionally, telecommuting employees need a channel with which to keep their managers informed about their work progress.
  10. Communication Finally, one important detail that you need to consider when developing a telecommuting policy is communication. The policies should include information on how often you expect your workers to check their e-mails, for instance, so they’re kept updated. Communication should never be one-way; thus, you also need to establish and follow guidelines on how employees can reach their supervisors – who may also be telecommuting.

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