Woman working from home

This article is co-written by:
Phyllis Karasov, Larkin Hoffman
Larry Morgan, Orion HR Group, LLC

In light of the coronavirus, the majority of employers are allowing, if not mandating, that employees work from home (WFH). What should employers be thinking about when arranging for employees to telecommute?

  1. Determine which positions lend themselves to WFH. Obviously, some positions require face to face interaction or production with hands-on work, such as manufacturing. The employer should consider whether there are alternative options, such as conference calls and videoconferencing, to allow work to proceed despite employees WFH.
  2. Determine which employees are capable of working from their homes. Many employees are not technologically savvy and have limited ability to work independently with little or no supervision. Employees must have an area in their home in which they can reliably and work every day. Build a formal checklist to establish clear and objective standards regarding employee and supervisor attributes to make it successful.
  3. Determine what infrastructure is needed for employees to WFH. If an employee does not have the internet at home, the employer may be able to provide a hot spot. If necessary, the employer can provide a computer, shredder and/or a printer/scanner/copier. Any secure platforms the employer uses must be installed on the employee’s home computer. The employer’s IT department should work with employees to ensure home computers are protected from hacking, virus malware, etc. All employee work should be stored on the employer’s server.
  4. Establish the rules for WFH, such as:
    • Employees must record their hours
    • If children will be at home, with the employee’s assistance, determine when the employee will be available to work
    • Build regular schedules and options for the employee to use paid time off for family activities as appropriate
    • Establish set times for phone meetings or virtual meetings. If necessary, software to allow for virtual meetings will have to be installed on the employee’s home computer or laptop.
    • Employees are allowed only to work from home, not from a public space or someone else’s home.
    • Employees must WFH in an area in which there are no distractions, with formal work hours so they can be contacted.
    • Reminders of the obligation to maintain confidentiality, procedures to ensure business data is properly stored on the employer’s server, and how to handle trash if there is no available shredder.
    • It should be made clear that this is a temporary situation. Employees may get comfortable working from home and want to retain WFH when it becomes safe to return to work.

5) Discuss and publish expectations. When reports and updates are required deadlines should be established. Individuals should be designated with whom employees can communicate when there are issues (and their cell phone numbers). Work product deliverable expectations and deadlines should be clear.

WFH can result in additional expenses for the employee. Copy paper, increased internet usage, printer ink and other items can become expensive. The employer should be clear as to what they will pay for, and whether it will be direct payment or reimbursement to the employee. Depending on the item, there may be taxable income issues.

Written documents describing the terms and conditions of WFH should provide the employer with the ability to decide that WFH is not effective, whether because of the work or because of the employee or the employee’s family situation. To avoid isolation, the employer should consider having regular virtual meetings so that employees still feel part of the team and continue to feel connected. If anything, over-communicate with employees so they remain connected with the employer and team members, have firm expectations of their own work, ongoing feedback as well as the employer’s business and future forecasts. Employees are naturally nervous about the stability of their work situation and it is helpful for employees to be told how their company is doing in this challenging economy.