Telework, also known as telecommuting, can be great for your business and the environment. If done correctly, your business can reduce its square footage, boost employee morale and make employees more efficient. Telework also keeps cars off the road, thereby reducing congestion and greenhouse gases. There are many benefits to telework, but ensuring that a telework arrangement maintains or increases productivity levels for your enterprise requires some forethought. There are a number of best practices to consider when deciding whether a telework policy is right for your business and how one can be implemented.
First and foremost, telework should be seamless for your teleworking employee, his or her co-workers, supervisors, and customers. When deciding whether a position can be made available for telework, consider the interactions the employee has day-to-day. Employees can be just as accessible at home if they have access to the right technology and the employees know how to use it. In no event should time-sensitive projects be delayed because an employee is teleworking. If there is an adverse effect on the business, consider whether there are inexpensive technologies available to mitigate the effect. If not, the position may not be appropriate for telework.
- Employee Qualifications
It is up to your company to decide which employees are right for telework. After you have decided what positions can be performed remotely, you should develop objective criteria for assessing whether an employee’s telework arrangement should be approved. For example, you may choose to limit telework to full-time and/or salary exempt employees, require a minimum length of service, or set performance appraisal criteria. Whatever qualifications you elect, clearly communicate them in your telework policy. Objective criteria will help you lessen accusations of favoritism or discrimination.
- Work Hours
Consider whether the position is project-based or you need the employee to be available at set work hours. Some employees prefer to telework because it provides a flexible schedule in which they can complete their work. Lay out your expectations in writing. If availability is a priority, your telework arrangement should assign daily work hours.
It is also important to set boundaries with teleworking employees. A full-time employee who works remotely is never away from the office. The expectations on a teleworking employee’s availability should not be greater than non-teleworking employees. In addition, for hourly employees and salary, nonexempt employees, time tracking standards should be in place to manage overtime usage.
Telework arrangements can be periodic, multiple days per week, or full-time. It may be ideal to institute a probationary period in which you limit the number of days an employee can telework to identify whether the job can be performed seamlessly. It can also help the employer and employee identify issues before a permanent telework arrangement is in place.
- Not a Substitute for Childcare
Telework is work, regardless of where it is performed. Telework arrangements with flexible work hours may enable an employer to retain an employee who may otherwise resign due to family obligations. However, the convenience of working remotely should not alter an employee’s job duties or an employer’s expectations. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that telework is not a substitution for childcare or care of family members. Work hours should remain for the benefit of the employer.
A successful telework arrangement requires trust. Understandably, some employers fear that a remote employee may abuse a telework policy. If an employer does not trust an employee to work, the arrangement will never be successful. It is strongly recommended that an employer first utilize objective criteria for assessing whether a job position and a particular employee are suitable for a telework arrangement. In addition, the probationary period, discussed above, should give the employer and employee an opportunity to correct concerns regarding communication and availability. It is impossible to monitor your employees at all times regardless of where they are working. If distrust is an ongoing issue, telework may be unsuitable for your business.
- Equipment Purchases
Another important requirement for a telework arrangement is including instructions and guidelines for equipment purchases such as laptops, paper, ink cartridges, postage, etc. Before entering into a telework arrangement, your company should develop a business-related expense policy and equipment standards for all teleworking employees. State laws vary with respect to equipment purchasing and reimbursement policies. In addition, there are a number of federal regulations governing equipment reimbursement and acquisition. For example, under the FLSA so-called, “Kickback Rule”, work-related expenses cannot reduce an employee’s pay below the applicable minimum wage or required overtime pay. In addition, OSHA holds employers responsible in home worksites for hazards caused by materials, equipment, or work processes which the employer provides or requires to be used in an employee’s home.
- Ability to Recall
Finally, an employer should always reserve the right to recall telework employees for business needs. Generally, recalling employees on telework schedules should be kept to a minimum to ensure seamlessness. However, there may be reasons such as mandatory all-staff meetings or in-person term projects requiring employees to be recalled. Recall policies should be reasonable, consistently applied, and give employees sufficient notice to adjust their schedules. Since one of the benefits of full-time teleworkers is the reduction of workspace, the employer should also consider whether workspace will available if an employee is recalled to the worksite.
For telework to work for your business, consider these eight best practices. With sufficient forethought and planning your business can reap the benefits of reduced workspace and increased productivity.
Would like help in developing a telework policy? Contact your MBA HR Consultant today.