A new report from Upwork, a freelancing website, found that while nearly two-thirds of companies have remote workers, fewer than half have a telecommuting policy.
This isn’t particularly shocking because often telecommuting starts informally. Someone asks if he or she can work from home for a period of time, a manager says yes, and nothing is ever formalized. Then everybody else sees the first person working from home, and other people start asking and getting approvals.
This is all fine until a problem crops up, and you don’t have a policy in place. Sure, the ideal situation is having responsible employees who are completely trustworthy, but that doesn’t always happen. You likely will end up with someone who says, “You didn’t say I couldn’t home-school my children while I’m working!”
So, yes, you need a policy. There isn’t a perfect policy for every business, of course. You have different needs and different clients, but here are five things you need to consider.
You do need a policy that states that all young children are either off-site in day care or school, or they have an onsite caregiver.
Some people think that working from home is great because it means they can take care of their kids, but you still need people to do their jobs and young children need someone watching them.
Of course, you need to be flexible, such as when a child is sick and can’t be sent to school or day care or the sitter has a family emergency. But there needs to be regular child care. Period.
This, of course, varies greatly from company to company and even job to job within the same company.
Are your remote workers expected to start work precisely at 9, take a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and then work until 6? Or do you not care what hours they work as long as they get the work done?
Some companies institute core hours when everyone must be reachable and available but allow people to control the rest of their schedules. Some companies require that workers be in communication at all times during the business day.
Whatever works for your business is fine, but be clear about it. If not, people will do things you don’t like and then there can be conflict and hurt feelings. Simply state what the expectations are from the beginning.
Does the company provide all the equipment? I’m not just talking about computers and smartphones. There also are desks, chairs, filing cabinets, headsets, pens, printers and anything else your employee needs to do his or her job.
Lots of companies like telecommuting because they don’t have to pay for office space for all employees, but you should consider whether or not you’ll provide office equipment. And, how do you ensure you get it back if the employee quits or is fired?
If you provide a printer, can the family use the printer or is it for work use only? Can the employee use the company-provided computer to write her novel or comedy script?
This is always an issue at the office, but when an employee works at home, it can further blur the line between work equipment and personal equipment.
Space and location
Is it OK for your employee to work at the kitchen table? Does she need dedicated office space with a door that can be closed and locked? Does it need to be locked when the employee isn’t there? If not, how do you ensure data confidentiality?
If the employee works exclusively from home, can she move to another city? Must she stay in the same state? Have less than a two-hour commute to the office? If a worker moves away, who pays for trips to the office, including transportation and hotel costs, when there is a mandatory onsite meeting?
Can the employee work anywhere outside the office, including the coffee shop or park?
Is there a formal approval process for someone who wants to work from home? If so, who does the approving? Is temporary telecommuting allowed with the manager’s approval while a permanent situation requires higher-level approval? Is full-time remote work allowed, or only part-time, for two or three days a week?
If someone telecommutes part-time, what happens to that person’s office space when he is gone? Does it become shared space?
Obviously, some of these things are very job dependent, so you’ll need to consider departmental discretion, but all need to be dealt with before an employee starts to work from home on a regular basis. Otherwise, things can fall apart.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources.