How to Set Up an Effective Telecommuting Policy
Work from home and telecommuting job opportunities are big trends that show no sign of slowing down. Today people are busier than ever and are looking for more flexibility and work-life balance.
As a small business owner, you may consider implementing a telecommuting policy. To make the transition as smooth as possible, we have the tips you need to know to create an effective telecommuting policy for your small business employees.
The Differences Between Telecommuting and Remote Work
Today, the term “telecommuting” is most synonymous with “work from home” but this isn’t necessarily accurate.
Telecommuting defines a situation where an employee works somewhere outside of a company’s business location or office but still lives within the general locality of the business. For example, an employee who telecommutes might work a certain number of days at home, while the rest of the week is spent at the business location. This may be something you let employees do year-round or during special circumstances, such as during the summer to balance kids out of school or recovery from a medical procedure.
A remote employee typically lives outside of the geographic area of the business, company, or worksite, and is typically permanently remote and only visiting your physical business a few times a year, or never, depending on the working relationship.
Benefits of Telecommuting
There are many benefits of telecommuting, and they impact both business owners and employees. Among them:
- Increased productivity. Employees able to telecommute often report increased levels of productivity. When working from home, employees usually find that they have fewer distractions. While in an office setting or around others all day, it can be a challenge to get work done due to coworkers stopping over, last-minute meetings, or in-office celebrations. Additionally, working from home provides the opportunity to customize their work schedule. Since telecommuting saves time on commutes, employees may find themselves signing on earlier and finding that they can get more work done in a day.
- Enhanced employee engagement. Whether on a temporary or permanent basis, employees allowed to work from home often are more engaged in their work. Reasons for the boost in employee engagement include more autonomy such as flexibility in work hours, reduced time driving to and from work, reduced stress when it comes to childcare, arranging pick-ups and drop-offs of kids from school, scheduling appointments, and so forth.
- Appeal to prospective employees. Today more people are looking for increased work-life balance and the option to work from home. A business owner who allows telecommuting as an employee benefit is viewed positively and can stand out from the competition. For small businesses in rural areas, this is often a necessity, as an employee’s proximity to the business site may not be conducive to hiring.
How to Set Up an Effective Telecommuting Policy
Your small business telecommuting policy doesn’t have to be filled with legalese, but it must clearly set standards of behavior and functions that you expect of your employees.
When developing an effective telecommuting policy, there are a few key things you’ll want to include:
Expectations Regarding Work Hours
Telecommuting policies are going to vary by business. Some jobs will require an employee to be available and working on their computers during certain business hours, while others are not as strict and will let employees work when it is best for them as long as their work gets done. Communication is key between business owners and employees when it comes to telecommuting. While expectations should be listed in the policy, you’ll want to have a conversation with your employees to understand their schedules and work toward a schedule you both agree on. Once you know everyone’s schedules, you can share with the entire team so everybody will know when and where coworkers will be working. This is especially helpful if you do have employees in different states and time zones.
Thanks to evolving technology, there are plenty of ways to communicate with remote employees. Videoconferencing is a popular method for staying in touch with employees and conducting virtual meetings. Popular applications such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx are just a few conferencing tools leveraged today for periodic check-ins and group meetings. While people don’t always love video chats, it is a nice way to keep remote employees engaged and connect face to face once in a while.
Instant messages, like Slack or WebEx Teams, are effective for quick comments, touching base, or having a simple question answered on the spot. For longer communications or something that might require a more detailed response, emails tend to be the best practice.
Because there are so many communication options, it’s helpful to give your team an outline of the methods your business uses and the best-use cases for each of them. Guidelines for what should be an email vs. a meeting can also be beneficial.
When allowing employees to telecommute, it’s important to have the proper cybersecurity measures in place to keep critical business information safe. In some extreme cases, small business employees may take advantage of software conducive to business operations. Safeguards need to be in place to protect against breaches, especially in situations where customer or client personal information is collected. Set specific guidelines as to what type of work devices such employees are allowed to use for business purposes.
The use of personal devices for instant messaging from cell phones or tablets often opens unsecured public networks. Whenever possible, password-protect business devices and ensure that data is encrypted. For employees who are given company-issued devices, specify that equipment is to be used for work-related purposes only.
Repercussions for Abusing Policy
Managing remote workers and workloads can be challenging. While telecommuting benefits many, it may not be ideal for every employee. Work ethic, personality, and attitude must be taken into consideration when developing expectations for your telecommuting policy.
Watch for abuses such as decreased work production or timeliness. Tracking the actual amount of hours worked even when an employee is ‘logged on’ can be difficult, even with time-tracking software, which is not always an option for small business owners. Set protocols in place for tracking progress on tasks as well as productivity.
Set clear rules regarding what you consider to be an abuse of the privilege for telecommuting and then stick to them.
Before instituting a telecommuting policy, discuss work arrangements and expectations with your employees. Ask for their opinions on the idea of telecommuting and discuss options that increase their ability to successfully telecommute.
If you’re on the fence of implementing a full policy, a trial period could be a great way to test the telecommuting waters and allow your employees the opportunity to see how they enjoy working remotely.
Developing and committing to an effective and beneficial telecommuting policy is a work in progress. Be willing to adapt it as needed, and check-in with employees frequently to see how they are handling their new work environments.
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