Setting up a solid telecommuting program

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Working from homeMany companies allow employees to work remotely. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 24 percent of employed Americans work at least some hours from home each week. But that doesn’t mean their employers are getting it right when it comes to overseeing these telecommuting arrangements. It’s more complex than simply letting staff know they don’t have to show up at the office.

Here are six keys to establishing a strong telecommuting program:

1. Contact your legal experts. Offering employees the chance to work remotely seems simple enough, but it can be a legal minefield. Topics to consider when people work off-site include complications with workers’ compensation matters and state 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.

2. Let managers have their say. Supervisors in your group should play a role in designing the specifics of a company’s telecommuting program. This involves more than providing IT equipment or determining whether staff can use personal smartphones and other devices to access the company 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.

3. Know what you want. Clear employee eligibility guidelines are essential so there are no misunderstandings or claims of favoritism about who can telecommute.

Managers should ask a number of questions when refining a telecommuting program:

  • Which roles are best suited to independent work?
  • Can the job be performed remotely with little disruption, if any, to existing standards and deadlines?
  • What experience level is required for an employee to be considered for telecommuting?
  • How many days per week can people in certain jobs telecommute?
  • Will the policy vary depending on seniority or other standards?

Telecommuting policies can then be created based on the answers you receive.

4. Don’t deviate from the rules. If you pride yourself on having a close relationship with your team, you may find it hard not to bend telecommuting requirements. Maybe an outstanding team member wants to work remotely, but her job falls into a category not ideal for telecommuting. It may be tempting to make an exception because she’s 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.

5. 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 telecommuters into key meetings. And invite them to come into the office when celebrating successes or holding special events.

Make an extra effort to communicate well and keep telecommuters in the loop on company and department news. This is particularly important for those spending a significant amount of time off-site.

6. Deter resentment. A final key to establishing a successful telecommuting program is making sure those who work on-site are treated equitably. It can seem like a bum deal to be the employee who must work from the office each day.

But remember that 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 are not full-time telecommuters, 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 review your telecommuting policies 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.

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit

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