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Telecommuting Policies

Even before the 2020 pandemic, businesses realized the effectiveness of telecommuting. The benefits of remote workers for companies and employees include employee retention, reduced absenteeism, and lower office expenses.

Small businesses can use work-from-home policies as effectively as larger companies. Developing a telecommuting policy for your business takes a little thought but is worth the effort. A good remote work policy gives you and your business the flexibility employees want.

Types of Flexible Work Policies

When you develop a work-from-home policy, your first step is deciding what type of policy you'd like for your workplace. Things have changed since the early days of the internet, when only computer-savvy people could use computers for long-distance work. Today, just about anyone can have a home computer and do office work wherever they please.

Not all jobs lend themselves to telecommuting. But, many will fit into one or more of these types of alternate business formats.

  • Telecommuting. Telecommuters work outside the employer's physical workspace. They could work from home or in another office or the field.
  • Remote. Remote is sometimes a synonym for telecommuting, although not always. Remote employees may be in another state or country and seldom or never come to the physical office.
  • Hybrid. This system is a favorite of employees. It combines telecommuting and on-site work. Employees might work at home for two days and come to the office for three days.
  • Condensed workweek. The four-day workweek has gained popularity recently as employees try to create the ideal work-life balance. Many workers would prefer a 10-hour workday and a longer weekend if available.
  • Flextime. Business owners have always had employees who need Friday afternoons off to pick their kids up at school or workers who are never on time because "they're not morning people." Flextime accommodates those people by allowing workers to adjust work schedules as long as the employee performs the required number of hours in the week. Flextime works well with other optional job arrangements.
  • Part-time, shift work, and job sharing. Employers can combine these methods with the above systems to create an alternative work-from-home policy. For instance, two part-time workers could share a 40-hour shift so the remaining employees could keep their current schedules. A part-time weekend worker could fill a shift for a worker who wants a condensed workweek.

Employers should consider their business needs when devising a telecommuting policy. Human resources professionals note that not all employees do well with remote work. Some businesses are unsuitable for telecommuting as well. A bridal shop needs everyone in the store. You can't landscape via Wi-Fi. Still, if your company can manage other types of flexible work systems, consider one of them for your workers.

Creating Your Telecommuting Policy

The best company policies are those where employers and employees work together to decide how to put new policies in place. Sometimes, employees say they want different work hours when they need a different work environment. If you have an HR team, they can help you develop your policy.

Identify Positions for Your New Policy

Some jobs in your business may not be suitable for a remote working arrangement. If you are doing a business-wide overhaul, other positions may get new equipment or upgrades instead of a remote option.

Select the Best Workers for Remote Jobs

Some workers like working at the office. Some would prefer a remote location but need regular supervision. Review the new HR policy with all team members to determine who can handle off-site work and who would do better with alternatives.

Have a Trial Period

Don't jump feet first into a telework policy and never look back. Most HR professionals suggest a pilot plan of six months to a year to assess and evaluate your policy.

Track Your Plan

Check with your remote team regularly during the program's first few months. As we learned during the pandemic, suddenly being home all day is a shock, even when workers think they want it. Your policy should include weekly or bi-weekly updates.

Meet with all team members at the end of the trial period and review the entire program. Determine what worked and what needs changing. Decide if you want to expand the program or close it down.

Develop Management Techniques

In-person management may not be possible, but online monitoring is available through software apps. Set job performance goals and task expectations. Since you can't watch your workers, explain what you expect daily and weekly.

You may need to adjust disciplinary techniques as well. Are remote workers required to sit at their "desks" all day? Are they allowed to take breaks, and must they clock out during their break periods? Review your company policy and employee handbook and consider how to treat telecommuters under those policies.

Home Office Considerations

When employees work from home, employers need to give them tools. Employees may have their own Wi-Fi networks already (most people do), but security is an issue. You and your home workers should consider some of these options:

  • A business-provided laptop pre-loaded with company software. This option allows you to have antivirus protection and technical support for any business management systems installed on your workers' computers.
  • Existing equipment and a virtual private network (VPN) to access the company's business system. Cloud-based systems like Google Documents operate through VPNs to ensure document security and privacy.
  • Two-factor authentication. Two-step or multi-step authentication prevents anyone but authorized employees from accessing open systems. A two-factor system uses passwords and encrypted numbers to keep outsiders from invading your documents.

There may be tax implications for home offices for the worker and the business owner. Discuss these issues with a business law attorney or financial advisor when setting up your telecommuting policy.

Telecommuting and the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses with 15 or more employees to discuss with disabled employees to reach reasonable accommodations for their conditions. Telecommuting can be a reasonable accommodation.

In Mobley v. St. Luke Health System, the 8th Circuit established that an employee must show that they can perform the essential functions of their job "with or without reasonable accommodations." Employers don't have to alter a job's "essential functions" to make reasonable accommodations. The classic example is a blind person who wishes to become an airline pilot.

But, since the 2020 pandemic, it is harder for employers to claim that all jobs need a full-time in-person office presence. Reasonable accommodations get made after negotiations between employers and employees. These discussions should include telecommuting.

Get Legal Advice

There may be other legal issues with a telecommuting policy. Workers' compensation still covers your home office workers. You must keep telecommuters and independent contractors separate on your tax forms. Ensure you've done all this correctly by consulting a business law attorney.

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