5 Essential Rules for Smart Telecommuting

You’ve probably heard the buzz about telecommuting—that it’s a great way to eliminate the need to commute, improve efficiency and keep workers happy.

If you’re like most business owners, though, you probably have some big concerns about letting your employees work at home, while on the road or at a remote location. Maybe telecommuting is fine for the Fortune 500, but is it really a good idea for your company?

Maybe, maybe not. If you’re thinking about starting a telecommuting program, here are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Expectations // At a minimum, the employer and the employee need to agree on the terms and conditions of their telecommuting arrangement. There should to be a clear framework for progress reporting, meetings and deliverables. Some companies do this informally; some actually create legal contracts outlining responsibilities, work hours, agreement duration and consequences for lack of delivery.

It is also important to know what equipment will be used (either the employee’s own or provided by the employer) and whether the employee will be entitled to reimbursement for things like Internet connection and phone charges.  Most commonly, companies will reimburse associates on a pro rata basis, for example, paying 20 percent of expenses when the employee works remotely one day per week.

Network necessities // Telecommuting requires a high level of diligence from an IT perspective—not only do you have to know your network, you have to know the employee’s, too. It’s critical to test the equipment, networks and connections the telecommuter will be using to make sure everything works properly from the remote location. If you don’t have the expertise to do this, be sure to hire someone who does.

Security of company data is also imperative, and a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection is often a good solution. Antivirus protection is also strongly recommended. Employers might also consider additional monitoring options, such as blocking certain websites entirely or during work hours.

Safe work environment // Keep in mind
that employees telecommuting are essentially an extension of your office. Steps should be taken to ensure that the alternate work environment meets basic workplace safety standards, including things like working circuit breakers, walkways free of obstructions and insurance policies covering the additional location.

Out of sight, but not out of mind // Employees who are telecommuting still need to “check in” and be a part of the office, if only virtually. Sign up with a reliable conferencing service (Skype and FaceTime are both easy and cost-effective) so the employer and employee can still see each other, share information, catch up on the latest business news and ensure the employee is still an effective part of the team.

Have a “what if” plan // Although few start a telecommuting arrangement thinking of how it might end, it’s important to have a “what if” plan in place in case an employee quits or is fired. It’s much more difficult to remove user access for someone who is working remotely and still harder to take company equipment and data back from an offsite location. “What if” considerations should outline the employee’s responsibilities if the telecommuting agreement ends, including Virtual Network Access revocation and return of company collateral, supplies and equipment.

Lastly, know there is not a “one size fits all” solution; every company will need to determine which items are applicable or critical and then prioritize accordingly.

We recommend implementing telecommuting incrementally. Perhaps first allow key managers to work a day or two a month from home, then extend the number of days or number of employees. It’s important to be able to test how telecommuting is working for you before implementing on a wide scale.

If you keep these few key considerations in mind, you and your employee will be well on your way to enjoying the benefits of such an arrangement.