HR Management & Compliance

10 Tips for Making Telecommuting Work

Yahoo and Best Buy famously eliminated or curbed telecommuting; meanwhile, other companies are embracing it. (Cisco reported it improved employee retention and saved $277 Million by allowing employees to telecommute.) In today’s Advisor, attorneys Deanna Brinkerhoff and Cathleen Yonahara offer ten practical tips for your telecommuting program.

Brinkerhoff (Holland & Hart LLP in Las Vegas) and Yonahara (Freeland, Cooper & Foreman LLP in San Francisco) offered their suggestions at the Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, held recently in Las Vegas. Both are members of the Employers Counsel Network, the attorneys from all 50 states who write BLR’s employment law newsletters.

Tip #1: Clearly Define Rules/Expectations Through Your Telecommuting Policy

The attorneys recommend that policies cover the following:

  • Eligibility requirements, e.g., must have worked at the company/in that job for a minimum amount of time, say, 12 months; have satisfactory performance evaluations; and have no attendance or disciplinary issues.
  • Types of telecommuting available
    • Full-time telecommuter
    • Telecommute on certain days
    • Option to telecommute as needed
    • Only when emergency warrants
  • Procedure for employees to request and company to approve/deny telecommuting
  • Hardware, software, internet connections, phone service, etc.
    • What is provided by the company vs. employee
    • Who pays
    • Responsibility for limiting access, damage, theft
    • Return of all company property on demand and upon termination
  • Home office requirements
    • Must be separate from living space
    • Who pays for office furniture, locked file cabinets, lighting, modifications to home office space, office, supplies, etc.
  • FLSA Compliance
    • Tracking time worked and days off
    • Overtime approval procedures (nonexempt)
    • Off-the-clock limits
  • Require confidentiality of company information
  • Work-related injuries must be reported immediately
  • Consequences of failing to follow policy
  • Termination of telecommuting arrangement
    • At company’s discretion
    • Upon performance issues

Tip #2: Identify Positions Suitable for Telecommuting

  • Job duties (receptionist vs. financial analyst)
  • Degree of teamwork and on-site collaboration
  • Amount of face-to-face interaction needed
  • Ability to secure electronic transmissions
  • Amount of supervision or direction needed
  • Output-based position with measurable outcomes


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Tip #3: Determine if Individual Is Suited for Telecommuting

  • Self-motivated/self-starter
  • Ability to manage time
  • Organizational skills
  • Strong knowledge of job duties
  • Limited supervision needed
  • Not easily distracted
  • Able to handle technology issues
  • Comfortable working alone

Tip #4: Have Employee Sign Written Telecommuting Agreement or Acknowledge Policy

  • Establish days/circumstances when that particular employee is permitted to telecommute.
  • State expectation for work product output (metrics, deadline review of performance, etc.).
  • Indicate how often employee must communicate with supervisor.
  • Acknowledge understanding of telecommuting policy.

Tip #5: Plan Communications and Engagement Activities

  • Keep telecommuters involved in day-to-day updates.
  • Schedule regular conference calls to keep telecommuters in contact with team/department.
  • Use Skype, video conferencing, etc., to facilitate face-to-face interactions.

Tip #6: Train Supervisors How to:

  • Monitor telecommuters’ work.
  • Evaluate job performance for remote workers.
  • Handle pay, benefits, and recordkeeping.
  • Enforce policies.
  • Keep telecommuters on radar for advancement.

Tip #7: Use Mentors or Buddy System

  • A more senior employee may help advise telecommuter when issues arise.
  • Buddy or colleague who checks in with remote worker regularly can raise engagement.
  • Helps eliminate sense of working alone.

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Tip #8: Comply with Applicable Laws

  • Don’t treat all telecommuters as independent contractors.
  • Comply with all federal and state employment laws.
  • Out of the office should not lead to out of compliance.

Tip #9: Have Technology Resources Available

  • Plan how to address technology issues for telecommuters.
  • Establish protocols for updating hardware, software, virus protection, firewalls, passwords, etc., for telecommuters.
  • Consider backup solutions if one type of technology is temporarily unavailable.

Tip #10: Consider Other Flexible In-Office Work Schedules

Work/life balance may be helped by other flexible work arrangements that do not involve working from home:

  • Compressed schedule: 4 day workweek/10 hours/day
  • Peak performance schedules—employees are regularly scheduled to work a non-8 to 5 schedule (e.g., 6 to 3, 10 to 7, or noon to 9)
  • Summer flextime—extra half-hour Monday–Thursday in exchange for Friday afternoons off

Wrapping it up, Brinkerhoff and Yonahara say:

  • Telecommuting can be a win-win situation.
  • Successful telecommuting requires advance planning and clearly defined expectations.
  • Consciously engage and connect with remote workers.
  • Culture of flexibility can increase bottom line!

In tomorrow’s Advisor, legal pitfalls surrounding telecommuting, plus we introduce the new guide, HR Playbook: HR’s Game Plan for the Future.