As more businesses adopt telecommuting policies for their employees, it's become clear that this alternate mode of working comes with distinct advantages, such as an improvement in employee efficiency and productivity.
According to the 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, telecommuting has become among the top nontraditional benefits employers offer to workers. More than 70 percent of companies participating in the survey had virtual/work-from-home employees in 2018, and 56 percent of leaders believe they offer these workers effective support.
What are the benefits of having a remote work policy?
Employers and employees alike stand to benefit from telecommuting policies. Here's a look at some of them:
Enhanced productivity: Perhaps the single greatest objection to telecommuting from the employer's perspective is the "out of sight, out of mind" concern — the belief is that if employees aren't required to work in an office setting, they probably won't work at all. Some recent studies indicate, to the contrary, that employees actually get more done at home. For example, a study cited by the Society of Human Resources Management noted that 77 percent of respondents "reported greater productivity while working offsite; 30 percent said they accomplished more in less time and 24 percent said they accomplished more in the same amount of time."
Cost savings: When employees work from home, businesses may reduce their facilities overhead costs. Depending on the number of employees who work remotely, expenses relating to utilities, janitorial services, office supplies, or even mortgage and lease arrangements may shrink. Reducing employee turnover alone can greatly boost a business's bottom line. Reports show that "replacing an employee earning a median salary of $45,000 a year could cost up to $15,000."
Fewer workplace distractions: Many employees find that being out of the office enables them to focus more effectively on their jobs. Distractions and interruptions are common in a workplace setting, while a controlled home environment often increases an employee's ability to concentrate on a particular task for a longer period of time.
Boost in employee morale: Giving employees the option to work remotely, either on occasion or all the time, may result in higher employee engagement and morale due to factors like:
- Increased opportunities to eat better, exercise, and improve healthy living habits
- More flexibility in meeting family obligations (picking up kids from school, for example)
- No more tiring commutes and stress from traffic delays
Higher engagement and morale leads to more effective employee retention.
Improved recruiting: Companies with established telecommuting policies may also be more attractive to job candidates. Plus, employers can broaden their search for qualified prospective employees beyond the immediate vicinity, since proximity to the office may no longer be a factor.
Reduction in carbon footprint: Not only can telecommuting save money, boost employee morale, and bolster recruiting efforts, it is a verifiable way of demonstrating your brand's commitment to environmentally-friendly policies. Employees that don't have to commute to the office every day reduce pollution levels, enabling your business to claim a commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. This may help make your brand more attractive to job candidates and customers as well.
Implementing telecommuting policies
If you choose to move forward with a flex-time program in your business, what are some of the necessary steps for effective implementation — both on your part and among the HR professionals in your organization? Here are key elements to keep in mind:
Have a plan. Jumping into flex-time arrangements for employees without a defined strategy can leave the workplace vulnerable to confusion over schedules, potential feelings of resentment or missed project deadlines. It's essential to frame your program around specific strategic goals. Determine beforehand which positions best lend themselves to a flex time schedule and telecommuting, and which positions (i.e., customer-facing jobs) are best left untouched.
Clarify expectations. To help avoid some of the potential issues listed above, it is essential for employees to fully understand what is expected of them in a flex time position. Together with managers, outline what work is expected to be completed on a daily or weekly basis. Determine specific hours when the employee will be working. Ongoing communications between employees and managers — as well as between employees and their co-workers — is critically important for making an employee flex time policy work.
Require active HR involvement. HR professionals can help the organization adapt to the changes that can come with having a flex-time policy. An employee who works traditional hours every day may resent those who are allotted a flex time schedule, while a manager who's short-staffed may view the organization's flexible work-hour arrangement as a hindrance to productivity. In such cases, your HR team can interact with potentially disgruntled team members, including management, and outline how the new flex time policy can actually benefit the organization and enhance productivity.
Formalize flex time policies. The HR team can also be instrumental in drafting what goes into your employee handbook regarding flex time policies. Key points may include:
- A certain period of full-time employment being required before a flexible work schedule may be considered.
- Approval of flex time requests will be made on an individual basis.
- Possible flexible work schedules must be discussed with an employee's manager before a formal request is considered.
- HR and related managers reserve the right to deny flex time requests if a department (and the company) would be adversely affected.
In addition to communicating the policy through the employee handbook, HR should encourage spreading the word via company newsletters, regular email updates, a message from the CEO, and wherever else employees are informed about company business. Communicating that remote work is a benefit that can be revoked based on performance can be helpful in cases when an employee does not meet expectations.
Arrange for a trial period. Prior to company-wide implementation, consider having a trial period where one department, or selected group of employees, undertakes flexible work schedules. Establish metrics to measure how well the program works, specifically with respect to completion of projects, quality of customer service, and overall employee morale. If all goes well, the flex time policy can be considered for expansion throughout the organization.
Businesses that actively support a remote work program often see a key differentiator in their recruitment efforts.
As Paychex HR consultant Chris Jankus notes, "Numerous employee surveys report that flex time policies improve work/life balance, which promotes employee health and well-being. This is something new job candidates often regard as a high priority in their search for the right job position."
Remote work policy challenges
Telecommuting policies are not without their challenges. The 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey points to some of them:
- Management and oversight of work
- Security and confidentiality of information
- Engendering consistent productivity
- Benefits administration
- Recruiting and applicant tracking
You can navigate these challenges with the right approach and commitment to an effective policy. Learn more about how businesses are harnessing the remote worker trend.