Teleworking—allowing employees to work from home—can be a simple solution to many employee needs, including long commutes, sick children, or eliminating distractions from working on a special project. Improvements in technology make it easier than ever to accomplish certain essential job functions from the comfort of one’s home.
Teleworking can be an excellent addition to an employer’s flexible work policy. Because it’s typically perceived as a benefit, teleworking can help make an organization an employer of choice, assisting with employee recruitment and retention. It also can increase employee efficiency and reduce facilities costs. Whether a teleworking arrangement is permanent, recurring or temporary (such as part of Americans With Disabilities Act accommodation), have buy-in from all stakeholders as well as a formal teleworking policy or plan in place for your organization. Here are some important considerations for creating a teleworking plan:
Establish the arrangement
1. Establish clear expectations. Supervising a worker who is not in the same location as the rest of the team can create unique challenges. Determining the amount of work an employee can reasonably accomplish is critical because it can be difficult to appreciate how busy an employee is when the supervisor cannot see the employee. Establish quality measures to ensure that the product quality meets corporate standards. Additionally, ensure that the supervisor and employee have opportunities for supervisory review, whether spontaneously or at a regularly scheduled time.
2. Determine a schedule. Managers will want to be able to verify the teleworking employee is available during standard hours of operation. Clearly communicate the employee’s work hours, when he or she is expected to be available via phone, e-mail, or online access.
3. Address dependent care. Some employers establish a policy that requires remote workers to not provide care to dependents (children or adults) while teleworking. This appears to be a practical consideration to ensure that the employee has the appropriate focus on business needs during his or her work hours. However, it is important to consider an individual’s needs when creating a telework arrangement. Perhaps caring for a relative would be allowed on a temporary basis, but a full-time teleworking position might include a prohibition against full-time dependent care
Everyone within the organization should resist the temptation to tease employees about how nice it must be to work from home in their sweatpants and slippers. Work performed at home should be treated with the same level of professionalism as work performed in the office. Employees shouldn’t be made to feel they have an easier workload simply because they work from home. After all, teleworkers often have difficulty separating themselves from work at the end of the day, as the temptation to “just finish up” can result in many hours of extra work.
Positions that require intensive writing, research and analysis, telephone-intensive tasks, or computer-based tasks are often well suited for teleworking. On the other hand, certain functions typically are best performed in the office, such as those that require face-to- face contact with supervisors, other employees or clients. Teleworking is not ideally suited to new hires, employees on probation, or those who demonstrate less than acceptable levels of performance.
Simply put, teleworking is not for everyone, even those in eligible positions. Employees who are well suited for telework are dependable, responsible, conscientious, independent, self-motivated, disciplined, able to prioritize work and effective time managers. Another question that must be addressed is who within the organization will determine eligible employees.
Dedicated home office
The teleworker should designate an area in his or her home as the official workstation. For teleworking to be successful, it is imperative to properly equip the employee by providing the tools necessary to get his or her job done. Be sure employees have a secure place for delivery of mail, supplies and equipment. Cyber security measures, from secure e-mails to paper shredders, should be used.
1. Remember the scope of employment for the purpose of workers’ compensation. In workers’ compensation claims, any activity that supports the employer’s business purpose is within the “scope” of employment. When that activity takes place in the employee’s home, many activities the employer may not foresee can be considered compensable. These would include getting a cup of coffee or walking to the restroom (personal comfort doctrine), tripping over the employee’s own dog while on the way to get supplies from the garage, or falling on ice while going to the mailbox (to which corporate mail was delivered) can all be considered an accident occurring at the workplace and can be considered compensable.
2. Address safety concerns. The employee’s home actually becomes the workplace for the purposes of workers’ compensation, so any dangerous conditions become potential work hazards. Some companies have the employee sign an authorization that allows the corporation to perform a site safety inspection periodically or as needed. Consider having employees complete a safety checklist as well as a formal teleworking agreement.
3. Complete an ergonomics assessment. An ergonomic assessment or training for common ergonomic issues should be provided for employees prior to beginning telework to ensure they have an ergonomically acceptable desk, chair, and keyboard to prevent employee injury.
4. Provide posting notices. Some states (Georgia, for example) require worksite posting notices for workers’ compensation purposes. Be sure the employee is given all appropriate notices.
5. Consider a trial period. Not every employee or employer finds these arrangements optimal. Initially, there should be frequently scheduled meetings to discuss any problems that might arise, such as problems with technology, personal motivation, access to supervision and other support services, training materials, and social, mentoring, or professional development opportunities. If issues arise, both the employer and the employee should have the ability to return to a standard work environment. The considerations above, while not exhaustive, are a jumping off point for a robust discussion regarding the potential benefits and pitfalls of instituting a teleworking program.