Employers Must Weigh Pros and Cons Of Letting Their Employees Work Remotely

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By Genevieve Douglas  

June 24 -- Telework and other remote-location options can be a boon to employers and workers, but the arrangements also pose a host of potential pitfalls, David Lewis, president and chief executive officer of HR consulting firm Operations Inc., said June 24 at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

Lewis said that employers should use a remote work option when the available talent in a commutable distance is scarce or when life changes alter an employee's circumstances.

However, he said, not every employee is a good candidate for a remote set-up. According to Lewis, employees who should be allowed to work remotely include those who have jobs where the nature of the work can be performed without face-to-face interaction with co-workers or clients. Employees would also have to demonstrate that they are capable of working remotely in terms of being mature and independent and having a proven track record, he said.

Common Drawbacks

Lewis warned that there can be unintended consequences from allowing employees to work remotely. Often resentment between employees who work remotely and those in the office arise, communication can be more challenging and remote employees are disconnected from a company's culture, he said.

“One of the biggest issues you see with remote workers is disengagement” from the rest of the company, Lewis said. Working remotely, he said, “will never be as it would if the person is sitting in the office.”

Lewis recommended employers use video conferencing, as opposed to conference calls or group e-mails, to combat any disengagement.

Other common challenges employers experience with remote workers include:

•  Remote work is done as a way to avoid third-party child care, leading to a high incidence of distraction for the teleworker.

•  Technology issues, such as a slow internet connection or a lack of proper office equipment, can reduce productivity. Also, employers must determine who will pay for home-office equipment and services. Lewis advised that employers give remote employees company laptops to ensure that they have appropriate system connectivity and the ability to access work documents quickly.

•  Workers' compensation and other liability issues can be associated with home work. Ergonomics and the layout of the home office also can be a concern.


Potential Rules

Lewis recommended employers strive to create a remote work option that encourages employees to dedicate their time at home “just as they would in the office.”

Managers should review job descriptions for remote employees to ensure that they are not over-managed or held to higher standards than office employees, Lewis said.

Other rules employers should consider include:

•  employees should show proof of working conditions through video, photos or a site visit;

•  employees can sign contracts that outline the terms and conditions of the home office;

•  employees can be tracked or measured to see if remote work is equal in output to on-site work; and

•  employees should be told to wear appropriate attire for video conferencing with co-workers or clients.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com