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The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

By Sonjui L. Kumar Email By Sonjui L. Kumar
May 2012
The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

According to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 27 percent of employees telecommute at some point in a year. Advances in technology have made the transition from office to home easier than ever. For most employees, the opportunity of working from home, even on an occasional basis, is seen as a privilege, saving them hours of traffic and reducing their food, fuel and clothing budgets.

Employers, however, are faced with a number of decisions and should implement some policies before the first employee can be sent home to work. Following are some key areas that should be thought through by management:

Eligibility. Who should be allowed or asked to telecommute? Any employee who is needed for face-to-face client contact or group support or interactions may not be the right person for the telecommuting option. Additionally, individuals who are selected or considered should be highly self-motivated and possess strong time management skills. If telecommuting will only be available to some employees, a clearly defined policy should be communicated so that there is no speculation on how or why the decision was made. If the request to telecommute is initiated by the company, expect resistance from employees who may view telecommuting as a demotion or as preventing them from moving up the ladder. Transparency and open discussions can help allay most of these concerns.

Work hours and reporting. Will the employee be required to be at their desk and answering the phone for certain set hours each day? Since the biggest concern for most employers is whether they are still getting the same work from their at-home employees, it is key for the company to establish the hours and days that the employee is expected to work and be available. Employees should try to minimize the disruptions that result from not being present in person. Wage and hour regulations must also be kept in mind, since non-exempt employees are required to take rest breaks and must be paid for any overtime hours. Note that most studies have found that employees working at home are more productive for a number of reasons, including the lack of distractions found at the office.

Security and Equipment. What equipment will the employee need and who will be providing it? Most companies that are able to do so will provide the technology that the employee needs, including computers, printers, phones and scanners. It is also advisable that all work be conducted and saved on company servers, so that no data or critical communications are lost if an employee leaves without notice or has to be terminated. Most importantly, the company should at all times maintain control over the security and confidentiality of their and their customer’s information.

Inclusion.  Will employees be expected to attend office events, and what about performance reviews and regular feedback? Extra effort will be needed to include off-site employees in office events. A recent Workplace Index Survey indicates that 64 percent of at-home workers believe their lack of daily contact with their employers hinders their chances for a promotion. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open, and use them frequently. Schedule a check-in time every day or week to obtain updates from your employee on the successes/challenges that they have faced. Management should also communicate when attendance at the office is required rather than optional. Regardless of the company’s social calendar, employees and supervisors should meet at regularly scheduled times throughout the year, maybe combining a review with another office event.

There are other important issues that should be part of any company’s telecommuting policies and decisions, including which expenses will be paid for by the employer, insurance and workers compensation coverage, timesheets, reporting of any job related injuries, tax implications for both the employer and employee and confidentiality of company data.

Telecommuting is certainly on the rise. In the last few years, a number of large corporations have closed office buildings and shifted their employees to home offices, significantly reducing their overhead costs. Although there are a number of factors to consider when making this transition, the benefits of saving time and resources, while increasing overall productivity and satisfaction of your employees, may make it well worth the effort.

[Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of Kumar, Prabhu, Patel & Banerjee, LLC. Sonjui L. Kumar is a corporate, transactional attorney and a founding partner of KPPB Law. Her practice focuses on acting as general counsel to privately held companies, including foreign companies doing business in the U.S. Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice.]

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