What is Teleworking?
Also referred to as "telecommuting," teleworking is traditionally described as employees who use telephones and commute to work from a location other than the usual place of business - for example, home, a satellite office, or a telework center.
Today the term has come to have a broader definition: Teleworking is when the employees uses telecommunications and computer technology to give themselves the freedom to work any time from any location. This could mean checking your e-mail from a client's office, filing out paperwork at a hotel room in Albuquerque, or writing a report at midnight in the local coffee shop.
For CTR purposes, however, the goal is to eliminate a commute trip to the worksite. The CTR law defines teleworking as the "use of telephones, computers, or other technology to permit an employee to work from home (eliminating a commute trip) or from a workplace closer to home (reducing the distance traveled in a commute trip by at least half)."
As much as employees like teleworking, it's important for them to understand that working from home is a work arrangement, not a benefit. Also, it's not for everyone. Employees who telework must be self-motivated, results-oriented and able to work independently. They must be successful in their current position, knowledgeable about the organization, and be effective communicators who take initiative.
The benefits of a telework program may include:
- Increased productivity as a result of fewer distractions and continuous, uninterrupted work time.
- Improved morale due to giving employees more flexibility to manage work and family life. (Consequently, it serves well as a tool for recruiting and retaining employees.)
- Expanded opportunity to hire persons with disabilities and others who might not otherwise be able to work in a traditional office.
- Reduced absenteeism based on the ability of employee to work in spite of emergencies such as heavy snow, car trouble or a sick child.
- Increased compliance with government regulations designed to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion (such as Washington's CTR law).
- Employees ready to work in an emergency (e.g., earthquake).
- Expanded parking space for customers and/or reduced traffic congestion around the worksite.
- Reduced need for office space as teleworkers work from home full-time or share space.
Setting up a Telework Program
Once you, the ETC, have decided you want to incorporate a teleworking program into your organization's CTR program, where do you start? First, you must secure initial approval to spend the time and resources developing a teleworking proposal for management to review. Here are things to consider:
- Form a teleworking committee. Especially if your worksite is large, you may want to form a committee to develop your teleworking program. Be sure to include employees from a cross-section of departments, as well as union representatives (if applicable) and managers.
- Set teleworking program goals. Identify what your organization wants to gain from teleworking. For ideas, refer to the list of benefits on the previous page.
- Define the scope of the program. Will you teleworking program be a full-scale program at the start or will it begin as a small-scale pilot program? If you anticipate a high degree of management resistance, it may be best to start small with a pilot program in one or two departments.
- Establish eligibility criteria. Established guidelines will help alleviate potential tensions between teleworkers and employees who would like to telework, but cannot. These guidelines may include information on which positions may telework, and how the employee can become a teleworker.
- Evaluate your program. The purpose of evaluation is to allow you and your managers to make informed decisions about the program. For example, you can learn about the effectiveness of the program by reviewing participants' productivity and performance records. You can also review cost information, as well as feedback from focus groups and surveys.
Key Elements of a Telework Program
Most telework policies should include many of the following elements:
- Liability Insurance. It's important to review your organizations insurance coverage regarding such liability issues as worker's compensation and coverage of equipment, as well as coverage of a teleworker's home office under homeowner's or renter's insurance.
- Work hours. Putting the expected work hours terms in writing will allow employees at the office to stay in contact, as needed.
- Dependent care. The policy should define expectations regarding caring for dependents on teleworking days.
- Communication. The teleworker and supervisor should develop an effective communication strategy.
- Equipment. What equipment, if any, will be provided by the organization? What about phone lines and long distance service? The policy should define liability, technical support availability, and the procedure for servicing equipment.
- Security. Teleworking may create a need to address additional security and information confidentiality policies.
- Office supplies. How will teleworkers acquire supplies?
- Taxes. A home office is not an automatic tax deduction.
- Safety and Ergonomics. Teleworking creates new work environments, and your organization may want to specify safety standards for them.
- Training. It is important that the teleworker, their supervisor, and other close employees be trained about the program, expectations, and objectives.
- Salary and benefits. The basic terms and conditions of employment usually remain the same, but should be stated clearly.
Most Commonly Asked Telework Questions
How do I convince managers that they don't have to see their employee sitting behind a desk in order to manage them?
Teleworking works best when managers trust employees and manage by results rather than the time spent at a desk. To manage by results, managers should:
- Review current job tasks and responsibilities.
- Establish measurable outcomes and deliverables.
- Specify who receives or monitors the outcomes and deliverables, and when interim checkpoints and due dates will occur.
- Use language that avoids subjectivity, vagueness and interruption.
- Link outcomes and deliverables to organizational goals.
- Track performance results.
- Schedule ongoing evaluations (in addition to immediate feedback and revise as necessary).
If we let on person telework, won't we have to let everyone do it?
No. Employees must understand that teleworking is a one possible alternative work arrangement, not a universal benefit.
Also, not every job or person is suited for a teleworking arrangement. Successful telecommuters must be self-motivated, responsible and results-oriented. They must be able to work independently, be familiar with the requirements of their job, knowledgeable about the organization's procedures, and successful in their current position. Finally, they must be effective communicators, who are adaptable and committed to teleworking.
What jobs are best suited for teleworking?
Job in which:
- Face-to-face interactions can be scheduled on specific days.
- Internal and external clients' needs can be met while teleworking.
- Clear work objectives can be set.
- Productivity would be increased by quiet or uninterrupted time (e.g., data entry, planning, editing, reading, research, word processing).
Can the employee baby-sit while working at home?
No. Teleworking is not an opportunity to save money on child care. Employees must continue to arrange for childcare even when working form home.