The IT profession has always been on the forefront of alternative work arrangements, allowing people to tap into the latest technologies to work from home. While Yahoo may have done a 180 turnaround and ended telecommuting recently, other companies aren't likely to follow suit.
Most employees want to have the option to telecommute. In a Robert Half Technology survey, three out of four IT workers polled said a work-from-home option was either somewhat or very important when considering a new job opportunity. Respondents said they enjoy increased productivity due to fewer interruptions and the lack of commute.
That doesn't mean their employers are getting it right, though, when it comes to overseeing these telecommuting arrangements.
Here are six keys to a strong telecommuting program:
- Contact your legal experts. Offering employees the chance to work from home seems simple enough, but it can be a legal minefield. Topics to consider when people work from home include complications with workers' compensation matters and provincial overtime regulations, as well as the degree of individual responsibility for company property. Legal counsel should review telecommuting programs to make sure the company stays in compliance with employment laws.
- Let managers have their say. Supervisors in your group should play a role in designing the specifics of a firm's telecommuting program. This involves more than providing IT equipment or determining whether staff can use personal smartphones and other devices to access the network. Managers know best how certain job functions will change if people telecommute and can provide valuable input on customizing the program for their teams.
- Know what you want. Clear employee eligibility guidelines are essential so there are no misunderstandings or claims of favouritism about who can telecommute.
- Managers should ask a number of questions when refining a telecommuting program:
- Can the job be performed remotely with little disruption, if any, to existing standards and deadlines?
- Which roles are best suited to independent work?
- What experience level is required for an employee to be considered for working from home?
- How many days per week can people in certain jobs telecommute? Will this vary depending on seniority or other standards?
- Telecommuting policies can then be created based on the answers you receive.
- Don't deviate from the rules. If you pride yourself on having a close relationship with all of your employees, you may find it hard not to bend your telecommuting policy. Maybe an outstanding team member wants to work from home, but her job falls into a category not ideal for telecommuting. It may be tempting to make an exception because she's such a strong contributor to the team.
- This would be a big mistake. Morale can suffer when rules aren't applied uniformly. Other staff may learn that you strayed from the criteria and ask if an exception can be made for them, too. With a precedent set, you'll be boxed into having to either say "no" to their requests or give everyone the same privileges.
- Be social. Don't let remote workers become "out of sight, out of mind" as you go about daily work activities. Set a policy of using Skype or FaceTime to bring telecommuting staff into key meetings. And invite them to come into the office when celebrating successes or holding special events. Make an extra effort to keep those who work from home in the loop on company and department news. This is particularly important for those spending a significant amount of time off-site.
- Deter resentment. A final key to a successful telecommuting program is making sure those who work on-site are treated equitably. It can feel like a bum deal to be the employee left to handle all of the desktop problems that can't be performed remotely by telecommuting co-workers, for instance. It's not the job of those who work at the office to cover for those who don't. Make sure those selected to telecommute can do their full jobs off-site – or, if they do not work from home full time, they're able to complete tasks when they return. Needing help from colleagues at work should be the exception, not the rule.
Be sure to update your telecommuting policy periodically. You may find over time that additional groups of employees can be offered this work option or that your guidelines need modification. Also make sure that your policies continue to be logically keyed to the nature and the demands of your business.