Ten tips for telecommuting and flex-time arrangements

Does your organization offer telecommuting or flex-time to employees?  If so, good for you: alternative work arrangements can help employees and their families at home, lower turnover, and sometimes save time and expense, not to mention environmental impact.

It’s to every nonprofit’s advantage to have a happy, productive workforce. Customizing work times and locations can go a long way in satisfying and motivating valued employees. But a good system must be in place to ensure fairness and effectiveness. If you’re considering alternative work arrangements, here are some things to think about:

1. Decide on a process for providing flex-time or telecommuting. Do you want to proactively offer it or allow employees to request it? What is the process for determining whether an employee is eligible? Whose input will be sought?

2. Develop a form for documenting alternative work arrangement requests or offers, that describes the request (e.g., telecommute two days, work four ten-hour days, etc.)

3. Consider whether the position is compatible with the alternative work arrangement. Generally jobs that include a lot of field work, customer service, or staff support aren’t compatible with alternative work hours or telecommuting.

4. Analyze how the arrangement will affect the organization, other employees, programs, agendas, etc.

5. Assess whether the employee has demonstrated she can meet goals and is capable of working independently.

6. Consider arranging a trial period first, and re-evaluating after 60 or 90 days.

7. Develop a policy for home office equipment: who provides it? Who maintains it? What are the requirements—broadband, server access, printer, fax, etc.?  Also, make sure you that security issues and requirements (e.g. data stored on home computers, security protocols, anti-virus software) can be effectively addressed.

8. There are many legal issues to consider. For example, if a telecommuter develops a repetitive stress injury because she doesn’t have ergonomically correct workstation furniture at home, your organization could be held responsible. OHSA rules and regulations apply to all workplaces including telecommuters’ home offices.  Other types of policies (e.g., harassment, confidentiality, etc.) also extend to telecommuting arrangements.

9. Develop a telecommuting agreement that details the arrangement and states that it can be revoked at any time. The agreement, which the employee must sign, should also include assurances related to safety. Many employers also require employees to check phone and email messages regularly (e.g., at least every two hours) or be available by live chat. The agreement might also address meeting locations, handling of files, access to data, and other relevant policies and procedures.

10. You will need a system in place for tracking, monitoring and reporting. Think through how employees will track hours and report the status of their work, as well as how employers will make assignments and monitor outcomes.

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