Telecommuting as an efficient work method is no longer in its infancy. It is an accepted and (when handled properly) effective means of reducing costs and retaining valued employees. There also is something to be said for the potential to reduce environmental impact by decreasing the number of commuters on the road. But there are several key ingredients to a successful telecommuting program that can help protect your business and your employees.
Security Issues to Consider
For example, the first issue that often comes to mind is whether sensitive company information can be protected appropriately when an employee works offsite. Not all jobs are amenable to telecommuting and an assessment should be done for each type of position before rolling out a telecommuting program. Your business must be set up to allow secure remote access to various company electronic communication systems, and to allow whatever electronic recordkeeping is required by law, regulation, and company policy. If you do not have the right controls in place, telecommuting can increase the risk of disclosure of important company information. Properly done, however, telecommuting can be as secure as working in the office.
In addition to working with IT staff to set up the necessary electronic systems, it is important that telecommuters are trained in how to protect information at home. There are some obvious risks, while others are not so obvious. Is it okay to leave a work computer in a location where the employee’s family, roommates, or a visitor to the telecommuting location may have access to it? Is the location wired with circuit breakers? Are hard-copy documents kept in locked file cabinets? Does the home office have a lock on the door? Are there multiple phone extensions for the work line throughout the home? How are documents disposed of at home? Are they shredded? How are CDs and computer disks recycled or destroyed?
Is the Employer Fully Onboard?
Another issue concerns the company culture: Is telecommuting embraced by the employer or is the employer a reluctant participant? This is important because if telecommuting is not positioned properly, employees who work remotely can feel distrusted by management and isolated from coworkers. Some managers (and employees) who do not truly understand telecommuting may believe that telecommuters don’t actually work full days and are getting some sort of a free ride. But properly trained telecommuters and properly designed telecommuting programs can actually help a company to increase productivity. This is due, in part, to employees feeling more in control of their work/life balance.
The next related issue is about management skills. Are the managers prepared to supervise telecommuters? Do they understand that it takes different skills and processes to manage remote workers? Can they monitor work and performance at the necessary levels and still engage in effective communications and performance management and assessment? Processes and systems need to be put in place so that “the office” knows what a telecommuter is doing and the telecommuter understands and is able to execute on expectations. And telecommuters also need to have ready access to management so that they are still able to establish relationships and demonstrate their value.
Not every employee will necessarily be successful at telecommuting. Remote employees need a different kind of self-organization and discipline to make such a setup work. Therefore, telecommuting programs should consider ways for the business and the telecommuter to assess whether telecommuting is right for each individual. Telecommuting can be isolating, and there can be many distractions at home that take attention away from work. Employees should be helped to engage in a self-assessment about their opportunity for success.
All of these issues can be addressed. It takes a thoughtful process and close work with human resources professionals to identify the challenges and create programs that account for business needs. It also is important to work with counsel to address any legal issues that may pose a risk (for the business or the employees). Proper training is also important. Managers and telecommuters alike need to be trained about the remote working relationship and how to communicate effectively. But when done properly, telecommuting can be a great benefit to offer your employees.
Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to AllBusiness.com. She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit www.barriegrossconsulting.com to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.
Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.