6 Important Questions to Ask Before Creating a Telecommuting Policy

telecommute policy

Telecommuting is increasing. Just look at the recent study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics entitled 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce. In this study, these companies found 2.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time. This is up from 1.8 million in 2005.

Why are these companies choosing to go remote? From an employee standpoint, there are savings in commuting costs, more work/life balance, and increased flexibility. If you are an employer, you are saving on office space, supplies, and utilities. Looking at one of these remote companies closely, Hubstaff, estimates they save about $100,000 annually with a remote team on these same costs.

2.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time. Click To Tweet

The bottom line is you want to make sure telecommuting is cost effective for your company. A great way to assess moving forward remotely, is to crunch the numbers. The Global Workplace Analytics Workplace Savings Calculator can help you do this so you can see if telecommuting makes economical sense for your company.

Telecommuting is a great option for both employees and employers. But is everyone eligible to telecommute? Should you have a policy in place? If so, how do you draft one? How do you make it legally binding? Below are some great tips for creating a comprehensive telecommute policy.

Companywide policy

Before drafting your policy, take a look at which employees will be eligible for telecommuting. Some jobs lend themselves better to telecommuting than others. If all jobs can be done remotely, make anyone eligible for telecommuting versus one group.

For example, if you are considering offering telecommuting to just one department or only parents, this may affect the company morale. Some employees may resent being left out of this policy. However, If you will be excluding certain departments because their jobs simply can’t be done remotely, make this very clear before implementing the policy.

Maybe consider giving these employees a different incentive not offered to the telecommuting employees. Or at the very least hold a company meeting about the new policy and allow employees to ask any questions they may have.

Trial period

Before you change your entire company into a remote culture, make sure everyone can work this way. Some people lend themselves better to a remote culture than others. Plus, new hires can look great on paper, but if they have never worked remotely before, they may not be successful in this environment. So the best strategy is a trial period.

Start with one to three months of a work-from-home policy for your employees and see how it goes. Have this wording in your policy and have employees sign off on this. Make sure to keep track of issues like communication, deadlines being met, and problems addressed.

At the end of this trial, you can decide if going remote will work for some or all employees. Also, it will help you figure out what percentage of time employees will need to be in the office if at all. And if it won’t work, make sure this is clearly stated and signed off on by legal in your document.

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Tools and software to be successful

Although there are no strict laws when it comes to providing equipment for an at home office, you want your company and employees to be successful. Think about what tools or office equipment they will need to do their jobs well.

For example, will you issue company computers? Will you provide funds for setting up remote communication channels? Will they need a headset for making calls? Will you give reimbursements for company calls made from a personal cell phone?

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and make their work from home office seamless. Once you’ve decided on what you will and won’t be providing, write a detailed equipment description in your remote policy. Make sure it’s very clear as to what you will be supplying and what you expect your employees to have or to buy for their home offices.

Another concern is company security. If you will not be providing a company computer or cell phone, you’ll need to think about security software. You’ll want your employees to download any necessary software to protect important company data. Also, take into account if an employee loses a cell phone or computer. This security software should include a way to wipe data clean in this situation.

On the other hand, if you will be providing a computer and/or a phone, state in your telecommute policy that employees are not to use company property for personal use. Just as onsite companies restrict web surfing on company equipment, this same logic should be followed when working remotely. And again make sure to install company computers with security software to protect against viruses or in the case of a lost/stolen situation.

Flexible hours with deadlines in mind

Whether your company employs global employees or not, working remotely lends itself to flexible hours. While office employees tend to keep an eight hour schedule with a lunch break somewhere in the middle, remote teams’ schedules may vary person to person. This is especially tricky when it comes to different time zones and countries. Plus, different national holidays.

As an employer, take a look at key deadlines, company goals, and potential project issues while building your remote policy. If you communicate this in your plan, all employees will know times they have to be available and when they can have personal time. Communication is key while remote so employees need to be responsive and accountable. And since you are providing this flexibility, if company goals are not being met, then the repercussions should be stated within your policy and be legally binding.

Communication channels

In an office setting, you can either stop by someone’s desk for a quick question, call on an office phone or ask for an impromptu meeting. Working remotely, none of these will work. It’s important to create a communication plan and add this into your telecommute policy.

telecommute policy

There are so many online communication vehicles today that make carrying on business as usual even when remote seamless. To name a few: Google Hangouts, HipChat, and Skype. Whatever method you choose, make sure you add some video or voice calls in the mix. Simply relying on email or text messaging can be dangerous. It’s difficult to read someone’s tone in this format and explanations can be misunderstood leading to further unresolved issues.

Time management system

In an office setting, it’s fairly easy to see when your employees come in, when they leave, and how long they take for a lunch break. When all your employees are remote, it’s hard to tell who’s putting in their work hours. That’s why it’s important to have a time management system in place.

A system like Hubstaff is an easy solution. Simply have your employees download the software onto their computers and it will run and track hours while they work. You can see via screenshots which websites they are viewing and how long they spend on a certain project.

telecommute policy

Plus, you can even do payroll through the system. Not only will this help you with employee productivity, but it will help your employees too. This is especially true for those employees who have multiple projects and deadlines to keep organized and on task.

Once you choose a time management system, specify this in your telecommute policy. Many like Hubstaff’s offers a free trial period which is great for choosing the one that works best for your company. Also, set up a video call to go over the key features of this new time management system so all employees know how the software works.

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Putting it all together

Now that you know what details to put in a telecommute policy and items to consider, you need to put this all together in a concise document. Below is a great outline to follow.

1. What is the purpose?

Why will you be offering a telecommute policy? This is where you want to state why you are putting this policy in place. Think of this part as a mission statement for your policy. Keep it brief. A few sentences will work well.

2. Who is eligible?

This next section should be which employees can telecommute. Is it the entire staff? Certain departments? Or certain job titles? It’ best to be very specific. That way, if some employees can’t telecommute it’s very clear why they are not eligible for the program.

3. What are the stipulations?

Are you allowing your employees to work from home the entire time or just certain days of the week? If it’s only on a part-time basis, what percentage of time are employees required to be in the office?

4. What is the procedure for telecommuting?

This is where you want to state how an employee applies and gets accepted into the telecommute program. Do they need to go through H.R.? If so, how long will the process take and when do they need to apply? Also, do they need to get additional approvals? Like maybe from a manager? And finally, if your telecommute policy is just in cases of unforeseen issues like an illness or family emergency, make sure your approval process is streamlined.  You don’t want paperwork to get in the way of productivity or an employee’s sensitive situation. Finally take into account if your employees work in various timezones. It may be easier to have at least part of the approval process online so it can be processed anytime of the day.

5. Does it pass legal and HR?

Once your policy is formatted, you’ll want to have your H.R. and legal teams look it over. If you don’t have these departments, consider hiring a lawyer to review your document. Why? To protect yourself and your company in case of any employee lawsuit issues. Here are some specific reasons:

  • To make sure your document states how employees will be paid, work accounted for and if hours are not met, what the consequences are.
  • To make sure there are no local zoning laws.
  • To be in compliance with the Workplace Safety and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Do you have any OSHA issues? What record keeping are you required to have under OSHA?
  • What happens if an employee gets injured while working at home? Is this covered under worker’s comp? Does telecommuting count as light work or modified duty assignment under worker’s comp?
  • If you employ sales people that invite customers into their homes, what happens if these customers get injured? What if a family member gets hurt in a home office? Who is liable? Are you?
  • Are you required to provide telecommuting under the American with Disability Act (ADA) or under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? If so, are you financially responsible to provide a modified home office setting?
  • How will you handle any discrimination issues that arise?
  • If you fire an employee, do you have the right to get files and equipment from their home?
  • What software is legally required for monitoring work activity?
  • If your company is headquartered in one state and your employees either work in different states or countries, what taxes issues may arise? If so, which taxes apply? The ones in the home office or corporate headquarters location?

How does your telecommute policy work?

We’ve given some details as to what to consider when forming a telecommute policy. Plus, how to create one and make it legally binding. But we are curious if you have a telecommute policy? If you do, how do you structure yours and what advice would you give a company drafting one for the first time?

Please let us know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.