Telecommuting

What to Consider Before You Agree…

We all are seeing that the labor market is tightening and hiring exceptional candidates is getting more and more difficult. And at the same time, the importance of retaining the great people on your staff has become the main focus of many of our clients. If that is your experience, then considering new ways to offer the things employees say they want will increase your ability to retain current employees and attract new ones in 2019.

In surveys of employees who are currently looking or are considering looking, the option to work from home for at least a day or two a week is at the top of many employee’s wish lists. More and more employers are offering that option in response.

Of course some jobs don’t lend themselves to offsite work. If your business provides the kind of products or services that need your employees to be at the workplace, then there are other things you may wish to consider in order to stay competitive.

But for many employers, at least some of their workforce can work productively from home. If you have employees who currently work from home, I’m sure you have thoughts about what is working and what isn’t. We’d welcome your comments.

If you are considering adding telecommuting to the options available to some or all of your employees, here are some things you should consider:

  • How you will choose who is eligible to telecommute and who is not?
  • Timekeeping methods if employees are nonexempt, plus approval of overtime.
  • Workers’ comp exposure and other safety and health issues.
  • Disability-related reasons impacting eligibility, e.g., people working when on a leave of absence.
  • Needed equipment.
  • Reimbursement for expenses such as telephone and internet, commuting to and from the office, etc.
  • How will you monitor performance and work product?
  • Is the person’s job one that focuses on results or on process?
  • The conditions under which you will end the arrangement if it doesn’t work out.

Before you agree to a telecommuting arrangement, we suggest you sit down with each eligible employee and ask these questions:

  1. Why do you want to work from home? Most people are not going to admit that they can get their laundry done, play with their dog, feel free to chat on social media, etc. But pay attention to their answer, and if they say there are distractions at work, ask for specifics. Some people don’t like to be interrupted, but it is a good idea to determine if the interruptions they are experiencing in the workplace are excessive or are part of legitimate workflow. If the person’s job is all about results, you won’t have to micromanage them because they will either produce results or they won’t!
  2. How available will you be to make or answer a phone call? Sometimes people prefer email or messaging through Slack because they can read and answer at their own pace, but that doesn’t always work for coworkers who need an answer now so they can complete their own tasks. If the person is known for not being timely when s/he is in the office, it won’t get better when s/he works from home.
  3. How will you stay tuned into the spirit of what is happening at the office when you are working from home? Business Management Daily referred to the phenomenon of “islanding” when someone works from home and is so focused on just their own work, that they place more importance on it than it deserves. They have lost the ability to see what others are doing and they miss out on the talk that goes on in the office so their perspective shifts. Listen for the tendency to pull away and essentially disappear.
  4. Ask what ways the person thinks their work product will be better? And in what ways will it potentially be worse? In answer to the first question, the person will probably refer to work/life balance, etc. but what you really want to know is if this person can be self-disciplined enough to get their work done. If you don’t get any ways in which their work might be worse, it may be because they aren’t willing to look at themselves realistically! If you anticipate a problem in a certain area, bring it up and discuss it with the employee. Listen for the person’s ability to be personally accountable. As is always the case, it comes down to trust.
  5. Do you know when not to work? Some people get so absorbed in work that they work at all hours of the day and night. That might work for some exempt employees, but it won’t work for nonexempt employees. Plus, if you “suffer and permit” someone to work, as they could from home without you knowing it, you will have to pay the nonexempt person possibly more overtime than you anticipated. The way to solve this issue before it becomes an expensive problem, is to spell out when the employee will be expected to work and when they are not allowed to work. That may keep the exempt person from burning out, and the nonexempt person from working overtime without your knowledge or permission.

Be sure to set up a program with enough parameters so there are no misunderstandings right from the beginning. And a key element is your ability to end the arrangement if it isn’t working. In our experience, accessibility is one of the main reasons that telecommuting arrangements don’t work for some people.

Spell out your expectations in writing from the beginning and then follow through if there are difficulties.

Give us a call or send an email to barbara@hradvisors.net or amy@hradvisors.net and ask for our Telecommuting Agreement. We’ll send it to you in Word so you can customize it. We can also add a policy to your Handbook as well.