In today’s workplace, there’s no place like home. Whether you call it telecommuting or just working from home, the practice is undeniably on the rise. Since 2005, its prevalence has skyrocketed 140 percent, with an estimated 4.3 million teleworkers making up the U.S. workforce today.
Working from home is on course to becoming less of a perk and more of the new normal. Even so, there are several practical and compliance considerations your HR team will need to make. Follow the best practices below to ensure your work from home policy is more than just a remote success.
1. Set Expectations
Your team will need to set reasonable and clear expectations on who is allowed to work remotely and under what conditions. How many days per week are generally acceptable? Do employees need to work with the company for a certain amount of time before earning the privilege? Do employees need to formally request work from home days through your HR platform? Because all teams operate differently, it may be worth delegating specifics to individual managers. In most cases, they’ll thank you—not all departments or roles lend themselves to telecommuting equally.
Be clear that remote workers should be available during regular office hours, whether it's by telephone, Slack, email, or virtual meeting. Working from home doesn’t mean running errands or painting the garage on the company’s time. While it may seem obvious, spelling it out in your policy or employee handbook equips your HR team with a defense if an issue arises.
Lastly, stress employee accountability. Abuse of the benefit is a concern among businesses just starting out with telecommuting. Be sure to gently remind employees that telecommuting privileges are not a right and can be revoked if goals or expectations are not met. While that may sound harsh, HR will only rarely have to flex its muscles on the issue. Studies have found that telecommuters, aware that they may be viewed with suspicion, go out of their way to be available and contribute.
2. Take off the Blinders
Ever hear of FOMO? It’s more than just a social media phenomenon. “Fear of missing out” is a very real feeling among full-time remote workers, who may find themselves looking from the outside in.
These anxieties may come to a head around performance season, as telecommuters often feel overlooked for promotions or raises. Those concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. Researchers from MIT recently found that “passive face time,” or simply being seen in the office, could have a disproportionate impact on perceived performance. In the study, it was found to be a subconscious impulse on managers’ parts, and largely a wrong one. For most roles, studies have shown telecommuters actually outperform their office-bound colleagues.
Akin to handling issues like unconscious bias, HR should keep a close watch on passive face time’s influence over reviews. Educate managers on the issue and keep a close watch on performance and compensation data. If there’s a clear trend of telecommuters being scored lower or overlooked for raises, look into the matter with their managers. Additionally, as we’ll discuss later, you can leverage technology to combat the influence of factors like passive face time.
3. Stress Communication
When employees are permitted to work remotely, the interpersonal dynamics are undeniably different. Interaction is largely scheduled in advance—there are no chance encounters by the water cooler or casual check-ins. It can become difficult for managers and HR departments to pick up on the subtle social cues employees give when they’re struggling or when something’s on their mind.
If communication is the key to success in any personal relationship, it’s arguably just as valuable in a work from home arrangement. Full-time teleworkers should be expected to participate in regular check-ins with managers.
If you’re hiring a new employee with the expectation that he or she will be working remotely, go as far as to even evaluate writing skills. Despite the wealth of virtual meeting options out there, video and audio still take a backseat to emails, the reading and writing of which account for 28 percent of the average workweek. Your new hire doesn’t have to write like Hemingway, but he or she should be able to produce clear and concise correspondence.
4. Invest in Technology
Leveraging the right technology can bring your remote and on-premises staff closer together, stamping out that “FOMO” phenomenon.
It takes far more than just a phone system to bring remote workers closer into the fold. If you haven’t already, push to incorporate video into your workplace meeting habits. The impact can be dramatic: one survey found that 87 percent of remote employees felt more connected to their company through videoconferencing. If your company holds monthly or quarterly all-hands meetings, be sure to broadcast these as well.
Certain HR platforms make it easier promote a feeling of inclusion, specifically those that include a company social feed. These can be used to easily share business updates from leadership, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, or just to recognize other employees. Incorporating tools like these can help make even the largest company feel small, no matter where employees are geographically located.
5. Address Compliance
As is the case with most HR issues, compliance has a part to play in a successful work from home policy. For nonexempt or overtime-eligible employees, this is especially true. How can you track off the clock work when employees aren't on location?
When the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938, it's fair to say that telecommuting wasn’t on the minds of legislators. Let’s address a common misconception: no part of the FLSA explicitly prohibits hourly or nonexempt workers from doing their job remotely. That being said, there are a number of steps you can take to allow these employees to use your telecommuting perks without exposing your company to added liability.
Firstly, reiterate that even something as seemingly minor as checking emails after hours is still considered work. This is a best practice not just when dealing with telecommuters, but with any nonexempt employees. If you haven’t already, invest in technology that goes beyond what a paper timesheet can provide. Make it a rule that with all remote work, punching in and out is handled digitally and at the moment, not retroactively.
Managers should be mindful of their own habits as well. Messaging nonexempt, remote workers at odd hours only invites later compliance issues, regardless of whether he or she expects an immediate response.
In just a matter of years telecommuting has evolved from a novelty to a near-expectation among U.S. workers. Some have suggested that employers may be the biggest winners, with one study finding that companies could save $11,000 per employee, per year if half of their workforce worked remotely.
Whatever your take on the issue, there is no one-size-fits all approach to getting telecommuting right. By taking the telecommuting best practices above into consideration, you’ll have a work from home program that is fair, compliant, and really hits home.