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Has telecommuting finally become mainstream?

Jen A. Miller | April 5, 2016
As the desire for workplace flexibility continues to be an accepted fact of contemporary working life, more and more businesses are wrestling with how exactly to embrace – or curtail – telecommuting as the new normal.

Shifting employees to remote workplaces can also allow companies to save on real estate costs. If everyone doesn't need to have a full-time office at the office, employers don't need to keep paying for that much space. The 15Five survey found that 5 percent of respondents were setting up work from home arrangements to cut down on overhead. 

"It's a very good thing for employers in certain instances because they're saving on rent and real estate costs," says Kathie Caminiti, partner at Fisher & Phillips. "Where they're using a bull pen of desks for employees but they don't have to have a desk for every employer on their roster – that's a significant cost savings." 

Doing it right

Of course, this isn't going to work for everybody in every situation: Development teams may need to be together; customer service might not be a job to be done in a home office in sweatpants. 

If your company is considering a work from home arrangement, Mizne suggests that employers "tread softly. Start small with a certain number of people," he says, or allow those employees who want to work from home to do so once a week at the start. Focus on communication with employees who are working remote, and if it continues to work, the company can expand who can work from home and how often.  

Caminiti says that the employer needs to set clear guidelines of "that the job duties and responsibilities in performance are adhered to" in the form of a telecommuting policy. "The employer needs to make clear that job duties, responsibilities, job expectations and adherence to company rules apply to employees in the brick and mortar office as well as remotely." 

The employer also needs to make clear – and the employee needs to understand – that the "work at home arraignment is not a substitute for other personal obligations" like child care or elder care. "They are working and they are expecting to be at work fully attendant to their time." 

Any work-from-home policy should also address who's going to pay for what -- including the cost of equipment and technology and maintenance of those materials -- and the at-home office space. If an employee is not salaried, how will the company ad employee determine a clear line of what's work and what's not? "That's important because if somebody is working off the clock just because they happen to have a home office, they should be paid for their time worked," she says. 

The company and employee should also review the employee's homeowners' or rental insurance, and that any policy "require the employee working at home to indemnify the employer if an accident were to happen," she says. "To use a very simple example: If somebody trips over your laptop cord in your home office on your premises, the telecommuting agreement would likely include a duty to indemnify the employer so the employer doesn't get sued by the person who tripped over the cord." 


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