Telecommuting is a fast-growing trend, evidenced by the fact that 3.7 million employees work from home at least half of the time.1 Just consider your own work habits for a moment. Chances are, you have a laptop you can easily take home with you. Maybe you’re even reading this blog post on the mobile phone you also use to answer work emails. With advances in technology, working from almost anywhere is easy.
However, it may not be the best fit for everyone. When deciding whether or not an employee can work remotely, there are a variety of things you may want to take into consideration: the person’s emotional capacity to work in a different, solitary environment; the work equipment available to the employee; and an appreciation for the importance of proper ergonomics.
Existing work characteristics
Often, employers will request that an employee who wants to work remotely on a permanent basis fill out an assessment form to determine if the person is a good fit or has the right temperament for telecommuting. The employee’s manager may also be asked to fill out the same or a similar form.
I’ve had situations where I’ve gone into an employee’s home to do an assessment and noticed that they’re working from a stool at their kitchen breakfast bar — not the best setup for an eight-hour workday. What if the employee doesn’t have reliable Internet or access to a printer or scanner? Having a keen understanding of the employee’s work environment and any potential distractions will help to ensure this is a productive and mutually beneficial work arrangement.
Many organizations, universities and government agencies ask employees to complete and sign a telework agreement before being allowed to work at home. Similar to the assessment that evaluates temperament, these agreements evaluate the employee’s environment by requiring him or her to complete a home safety checklist. The checklist covers the employee’s workstation, home safety and security. Remember: Security of an employer’s property, such as a computer, is also important.
Discuss proper ergonomics
If an employee doesn’t have a proper work environment in their home or are attempting to work from another location such as a coffee shop, they could be putting themselves at risk for serious musculoskeletal issues. Consider the employee at the breakfast bar. A backless stool could cause the employee to lean over, and the too-high countertop results in his or her shoulders to be positioned up toward their head. While these things may not seem to be issues at first, long-term static positions that are awkward can result in serious neck, shoulder and back pain, which could eventually lead to a costly disability leave and medical bills.
Telecommuting is here to stay. Although employees are expected to maintain the safety of their home worksite, managers can support their employees to be successful by giving them resources, information and guidance. Also, understand that employees who are successful contributors at work will be successful in a telework situation. A strong telecommuting program is about trust and accountability — a great place to start.
1 Global Workplace Analytics. Sept. 29, 2015. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. Available from http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics. Accessed Nov 2, 2015.