Developing the Remote Workforce

Contributed by Julie Proscia

For years now, the business community has been buzzing over the growing number of workers doing their jobs from remote locations, both down the street and around the world. Some estimates say as many as 50 million U.S. employees are working remotely at least part of the time. When it works, telecommuting can mean cost savings and the utilization of key people that would otherwise not even be in the applicant pool. When it doesn’t it can lead to inefficiencies, lost opportunities and of course law suits.

Who should be allowed to telecommute? What equipment will the company provide, and who owns it if an employee leaves? Do we have to inspect an employee’s home (or local coffee shop) for safety problems?

Whether your telecommuting plans include one or 100 employees, there are certain things that employers should do before anyone begins working away from the office. 

The first step is to develop a written policy regarding telecommuting employees which should include at least the following statements: 

  • That teleworking does not change the employment relationship, and the remote employee must abide by all of the employer’s existing policies;
  • The employer’s expectation that the remote employee will devote his or her time to work-related activities;
  • For non-exempt employees, a clear statement that overtime is not permitted unless it is pre-approved by the employee’s immediate supervisor;
  • That the employee is responsible for reporting all workplace injuries or safety issues to the employer, and that the employer reserves the right to inspect the employee’s worksite for safety, if necessary;
  • That the employee cannot misuse company property, whether at the office or at home;
  • That the employee’s work product belongs to the company, regardless of where it is produced.

The second step is to develop strong job descriptions. These are more important for telecommuters, because there is much less day-to-day oversight over their activities. On top of a general description of the company’s expectation for the position, a telecommuter’s job description should spell out exactly who and where the employee reports to, the specific day-to-day duties the employee is expected to accomplish, and the manner in which the employee’s performance will be reviewed. 

As with all job descriptions, make sure the employee’s exempt/non-exempt status and physical requirements are spelled out, as well. 

Having the right technology can make a big difference in how a telecommuting employee is managed. Instant messaging, intranets, and other points of connection between the employee and the rest of the company can go a long way to removing isolation and other psychological issues that often lead to employee complaints. Time clock software can also be implemented to ensure that non-exempt telecommuters properly record their time daily. A webcam video link like Skype can make these interactions much more human and direct. 

Once you have the technology, the policies and job descriptions in place you are in a good spot to begin the remote process. Remember though just because the employee is remote does not free you from FMLA, OSHA, wage and hour and discrimination requirements. A remote workforce bears the same responsibilities but with an added home field advantage. But that is for another day…today is now for remotely working poolside.