With the advent of internet technology came the feasibility of working away from a central office, commonly referred to as telecommuting. The changing nature of work toward more computer-based duties has also played a role in allowing more and more workers to telecommute. However, it's important to keep in mind that working remotely doesn't make sense for all occupations; physicians and store clerks are two obvious examples.
Enacting a half-baked work-from-home strategy, failing to properly manage telecommuters, or offering the option to ill-suited employees can backfire. See below to learn more about how to best construct your company's telecommuting policy.
Benefits of Telecommuting
The main employee advantage of telecommuting is the time and money savings from not physically commuting to work each day. Research shows that employees who telecommute benefit from less stress and enjoy general improvements in health, according to the American Telecommuting Association (ATA). And then there are the intangibles such as the ability to have lunch with a friend, run a quick errand or spend more time preparing a family meal.
Employers also reap substantial rewards from properly implemented telecommuting policies. Several studies of telecommuting over the past two decades have consistently shown that such policies increase productivity by 10 to 15 percent, while cutting down on office expenses and employee absenteeism. Meanwhile, telecommuting is a virtually free benefit to employees that can help with retention while reducing burnout.
Telecommuting as a Reasonable Accommodation
Telecommuting also can be provided as a "reasonable accommodation" for disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to 1999 enforcement guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Under the ADA, which covers businesses with 15 or more employees, employers need not have a companywide telecommuting policy in order to offer it as an ADA-related accommodation.
As with any decision pertaining to the accommodation of an employee's disability, the decision to offer a telecommuting option should be made through an "interactive process" between employer and employee.
Implementing Telecommuting Policies & Managing Telecommuters
Telecommuting policies succeed or fail largely on the merits of how their participating employees are managed. But carefully approaching such a change in policy instead of blindly jumping in is the key to success. Some states have labor laws governing how telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements are offered, often to prevent favoritism in the workplace.
The federal government identifies the following seven steps for implementing a successful telecommuting policy:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies seven additional key considerations for establishing a telecommuting policy:
Seeking Advice of an Employment Law Attorney
If your company is considering implementing a telecommute policy or simply wants to update their current arrangement, consider seeking the advice of an experienced employment law attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you in the right direction and help you avoid certain pitfalls.
See FindLaw's Hiring Process section to learn more.