Telecommuting is a wonderful tool. Employees with compatible jobs can work from any location with an internet connection. They gain flexibility through ease of access. Telecommuting can reduce turnover and absenteeism, and modern technology has made remote work increasingly reliable. Yet, like any tool, telecommuting may cause issues if employers do not handle it competently. This blog post covers several topics related to remote work with the goals of informing an employer’s choice to offer telecommuting and providing some tips on effective management.
Get It In Writing
First things first, prepare a remote work policy. An employer with a written policy is more likely to manage remote work arrangements consistently. A written policy reduces the risk of confusion or misunderstandings. It is also important for counseling or disciplinary purposes if employees fail to meet requirements or expectations.
What employers include in their remote work policy will vary, depending on each employer’s operational needs, job compatibility with remote work, each employer’s technology resources, and a host of other factors. As employers write their remote work policies, they should check for consistency with existing policies. The following policies commonly overlap with telecommuting: social media use, employer-owned equipment or devices, confidentiality or privacy policies, internet use, and employee accommodations (disability, religious, etc.).
Employers may also use teleworking agreements. The contents will vary, but at the very least a teleworking agreement requires the individual employee to verify he or she has read and understood the teleworking policy and procedures.
Location, Location, Location
Left to their own discretion, employees may choose to work from anywhere. The remote location matters. Cities and counties have laws that may apply to employees working remotely within their geographic boundaries. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many cities and counties to adopt their own sick leave policies, for example. Even before COVID-19, some cities and counties also set their own minimum wage requirements. Thus, employees working remotely from another city or county may subject the employer to new legal requirements.
The question of applicable law becomes even more complicated when employees work from a different state. California has laws on protected leaves, workplace injuries, retirement plans, mandated reporting, discrimination and harassment prevention, work hours, overtime, employee representation, tax obligations, and so forth. The same may be true of the other states from which employees perform the work. Multi-state telecommuting may require an employer to consult with legal, tax, and other professionals in both jurisdictions. As a result, compliance becomes increasingly difficult.
Remote work options can be customized in many ways, but they generally fall into two categories: hybrid and fully remote schedules.
A fully remote schedule involves the employee working remotely full-time with no time spent in-person. While this option may seem less flexible since it requires a position that is compatible with fully remote work, it remains a viable option. For instance, a fully remote schedule may serve as a reasonable accommodation. It may also be necessary on a temporary basis, as many employers discovered during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Even if an employer ultimately adopts a hybrid schedule, it is still worth considering fully remote schedules in case the employer must use them as a reasonable accommodation or in response to a temporary emergency.
A hybrid schedule involves some time spent in-person and some time spent telecommuting. Hybrid schedules offer a high degree of versatility. The employer can choose whether to require certain days to be in-person, let employees choose which days are remote, or use a mix of both options. The decision will depend on the employer’s operational needs, the needs of specific units or departments, and each job position’s compatibility with remote work. The arrangement may also rely upon specific types of remote work that are available. For example, an electrician may need to make field calls but may be able to handle certain tasks remotely while on a call.
Whether employers offer hybrid or fully remote schedules, it is critical to maintain open lines of communication. Telecommuting employees should know how and when they can reach their supervisors and vice versa. Employees should know which forms of communication to use: phone calls, emails, text messages, video calls, et cetera. If an employee or supervisor will be unavailable for a part of the day (e.g., in a meeting), the person should use out-of-office messages or update the team accordingly. Employees should know how to reach their coworkers and supervisors in the event of a sudden development or emergency.
Ideally, the open lines of communication should appear in the teleworking policies. This will allow employers to clarify expectations and resolve any confusion before employees begin working remotely. Including communication procedures in a teleworking policy helps employers to resort to discipline when necessary, because the policy will describe expectations and acceptable conduct.
Once an employer has open lines of communication, it should schedule regular check-ins. If the employer uses a hybrid schedule, days where employees report to work in-person may serve as meeting days. If check-ins occur remotely, employers should use video conference calls and encourage employees to turn on their video cameras. Employers should plan both group and individual check-ins. This is because individual employees may want to discuss certain things that they feel uncomfortable raising in a group setting.
Feedback and Review
Expectations should not change when an employee transitions to remote work. The employee should still provide the same quality and quantity of work product while working remotely. Regular performance reviews are effective communication tools that help maintain employee performance, whether in-person or remote.
In addition to regular performance reviews, supervisors and managers should plan less formal reviews and should create opportunities to give and receive feedback. For employees with hybrid schedules, review checks or feedback can occur on in-person workdays. Video conference calls serve for employees who work fully remote schedules.
Summing It Up
Telecommuting arrangements can take many forms. This blog post considers only a few of the subjects related to remote work. Employers’ approaches and experiences will vary. However, the more planning and preparation an employer can do beforehand, the better situated it will be to support telecommuting employees.
 NOTE: This post uses terms like “telecommuting,” “telework,” and “remote work” interchangeably.