As summer quickly winds down and parents try to adjust to the back to school / work routine, many metropolitan areas face what has become one the busiest commuter traffic seasons of the year.
Traffic congestion doesn’t only impact the environment, it creates disgruntled and un-productive employees – something very few small businesses operating within narrow-profit margins can sustain.
Many businesses have responded with teleworking programs that take employees off the road on a full-time or part-time basis. However many small business owners are reticent about implementing teleworking programs for fear of abuse, lost productivity or simply because they don’t operate a business model that can support such a work method.
The truth is that teleworking is just one facet of a small business owner’s toolkit for providing employees with a green commuting option that reduces stress, improves productivity and protects the environment.
Here is a breakdown of how you can help your employees take advantage of green commuting options, including teleworking, and how you both can reap the benefits of green commuting tax incentives.
1. Make the Most of Ride Share and Public Transportation Tax Incentives
The federal government offers a variety of financial incentives to employers and employees to pursue green commuting options. These are enabled and promoted through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Commuter Choice program, which permits employers to offer employees “a tax-free benefit to commute to work by methods other than driving alone”.
Basically the Commuter Choice programs enables employers to give their workers up to $230 each month for transit or vanpool commuting costs as a tax-free benefit. It also allows employers to give employees the option to use payroll deductions to avoid paying taxes on up to $230 a month in commuting costs. Alternatively, employers can share these costs with their workers by paying part of their monthly commuting costs and letting workers pay the balance using pre-tax dollars. Either way, both employers and their employees can save money by participating in this simple plan.
The program is offered in collaboration with state transit agencies so check with your state for more information or download the Commuter Choice brochure “It Pays to Ride Public Transportation” to learn more.
2. Steps to Implementing a Teleworking Policy
While not appropriate for all small businesses, many employers recognize that adopting a telework policy can help improve employee retention and morale, while showcasing their company with potential employees and the community at large.
If you are considering formalizing a teleworking policy for your small business, start by identifying types of positions or job types that can practically be performed at home. For example, if an employee needs access to physical or even computer-based resources that are not available to them at home, then that position is clearly not a candidate for teleworking. But if they don’t need access to those resources everyday then they may be a candidate for working from home on certain days.
Understand your employee’s needs and asses those needs in light of your knowledge of their work habits. You may wish to restrict teleworking as an option for managers or employees who can work well without constant oversight.
Before you fully implement the policy, initiate a trial period and track results. Get feedback from managers and other employees as to the benefits and any challenges they are seeing. You can then fine tune and possibly expand the program to best suit everyone’s needs.
You should also check whether your state offers any incentives to offset the cost of setting up a home office (find your state’s Web site here).
The government is one of the leading proponents of teleworking and offers some excellent resources to help businesses and its own employees implement teleworking as a best practice:
- Telework.gov – Although this site was designed for Federal employees, it has guidance that canhelpnon-government business managers with teleworking best practices too, notably its “Teleworking Basics for Managers“.
- Business.gov’s Telecommuting Guide – This online portal connects small business owners with information and tools about implementing teleworking policies.
Also, check out this series of podcasts on Telecommuting in the 21st Century from The Anywhere Office in which a panel of experts answer some of the most pressing questions regarding implementing or improving a telework program.
3. Alternative Teleworking – Government-Provided Teleworking Centers
As an alternative option for businesses and employees who are unable to work from home, some local governments provide “Teleworking Centers” across local communities that provide an alternative professional work environment with access to computers, software, Internet and other business facilities. There is usually a small fee involved. Check with your local or county government for more information as to whether they support this type of initiative.
- Is Teleworking a Fit for your Business? Includes an overview of the benefits, intangibles, how to avoid pitfalls, and computer security tips for teleworking employees from Small Business Computing
- A Telework Program for Your Small Business: The Why and the How – Six tips on how to make your telework program a success.
- Green Commuting / Telecommuting Small Business Guide – From Business.gov.
- <!–[endif]–>An Employer’s Guide to Implementing Effective Commuter Choice Programs – Produced by the government’s Commuter Choice program.