Frequently Asked Questions
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General Questions about Telework
- What is the prevalence of telework?
- Does telework affect employee productivity?
- Are teamwork and telework possible at the same time?
- Do teleworkers only work for large companies?
- Can teleworkers be non-exempt, hourly employees?
- Do teleworkers have difficulty advancing in their careers?
What is the prevalence of telework?
Telework is the practice of employees working away from the office, either from home, another location, at a customer site or while traveling. Telework is a growing work option for companies of all sizes and types. Today, more than 33.7 million Americans (WorldatWork 2009) are working away from the office at least part-time. Just 10 years ago, that figure was 11.6 million – and in 1990, there were just 3.4 million teleworkers in the US. (Telework Advisory Group for WorldatWork. http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/) [top^]
Most companies report an increase in performance through the initiation of telework from 3% to 30%. Teleworkers can better manage distractions that are non-work related, meet deadlines, and concentrate on the tasks. The most common characteristics associated with productivity, whether an employee teleworks or not, include: 1) work quality; 2) customer satisfaction; 3) meeting deadlines; and, very often, 4) quantity. Before implementing telework, it is important for an employer to clearly determine the methods by which it will measure performance. Telework may bring attention to the systems or processes that support work. These work environment factors have been grouped into eight categories that may affect employee performance when telework is involved: It helps to take a look at these when telework is started.
1. Support Duties. What tasks could be reassigned, streamlined, eliminated or added to support staff duties? What tasks will teleworkers be required to do by themselves? What tasks are done best off-site?
2. Other Department Work Interfaces. Will other department functions need to change in order to support key results? How will work products be made available to teleworkers? How will response times be maintained? What kind of adaptation in information exchange or flow will be needed?
3. Communications. What types of co-worker, supervisor and team communications, both written and verbal, are needed to maximize performance results? What types of face-to-face meetings are needed?
4. Document Security. What documents can the telework take out of the office? How will legal/confidentiality guidelines or company policies affect or impede data sharing, document transfer or telecommunications when the telework is off-site?
5. Database. How will current database requirements (availability, speed, accuracy) need to change to support teleworkers?
6. Equipment/Technology. What types of technology are absolutely essential? What types are secondary? What are the financial limits on purchase or leasing of needed technology?
7. Teleworker Work Schedule and Attendance. How will the teleworker’s flexible work hours affect results? What types of back-up or emergency support is expected from teleworker?
8. Emergency Back-Up. What is the definition of an emergency? What types of situations will require in-house staff back-up? What is the strategy to reach the telework(s) in an emergency? Each of the factors listed above are crucial to the performance of an employee, and especially if the employee is out of the office much of the time. If there is a deficiency in the role these factors play in the office, it may be magnified when employees telework. [top^]
Absolutely! In fact, teamwork can actually be improved and the team can maintain more effective ties when telework is part of the job. The success of the team relies on three factors: 1) accountability, 2) communication and 3) technology.
Accountability - Teleworkers should be expected to return e-mail, phone calls and text messages on a regular basis and to finish their work on time and in a professional manner. The teleworker should expect the same from their managers. When a team is spread over a distance, accountability is a crucial part of the equation. Teleworkers who fit the profile of a good teammate, are in the habit of being accountable and most likely will have no trouble contributing to the success of the team.
Communication –While telework focuses on other types of communication rather than “old-fashioned” face-to-face discussion, it also benefits from regular, effective meetings, especially if there is a team involved. These can be conducted via conference call or interactive meeting technology ensuring team members understand their roles and progress. In short, the team must adapt and evaluate the communication between its members in order to effectively achieve the goals it has established.
Technology - Technology increases the ease and effectiveness of communication and telework. From simple telephone calls or ground mail, to videoconferencing and texting, team members should use as many forms of communication technology as possible to do their jobs effectively. Technology does increase the ease and speed with which a group can operate if all the members are on the same page. It also makes telework that much more practical in a team setting. [top^]
Recent studies have shown that many teleworkers work for small companies. There are several reasons that smaller companies also embrace telework: 1) as a rule of thumb, they are more likely to be willing and able to quickly and effectively implement telework work arrangements; 2) many are striving to become bigger and are looking for ways to reduce the costs associated with new employees while increasing output; and 3) for small companies, changing policy isn’t as difficult or time consuming as it may be in larger companies. [top^]
Teleworkers are the same as other employees. They can be paid hourly or can be salaried. Typical telework jobs that are hourly include medical transcriptionist, secretary, data entry, and customer service representative. Federal law mandates the reporting of hours worked by non-exempt (hourly) staff for both in-house and telework employees. State law varies on definitions of employee rights and entitlements. All hours worked, including regular pay and overtime hours, must be well documented. It is also important to consider aspects of travel for teleworkers. Hourly employees whose primary office is at home must be paid for the time it takes them to travel to the company’s office. The company is not required to pay that employee for mileage, only for their time, and only if the teleworker’s main office is at home. A general rule of thumb is that the primary office is a location where employees work more than 50% of their time. [top^]
This question is most often asked because people think that teleworkers are “never around” (the out of sight/out of mind argument). In fact, many teleworkers are in the office more than they are at home, just working remotely just one or two days a week and working in the office the rest of the time. Therefore, they are not easily forgotten. Also, most teleworkers are given the chance to work outside of the office because they show initiative, responsibility and decision making abilities. In the long run, these are qualities that make a person an above-average candidate for promotion. [top^]
Start-up and Implementation
- Do companies provide office equipment for teleworkers?
- Should teleworkers be reimbursed for use of their own office equipment?
- If an employee lives in one state and teleworks for a company located in another state, which state is designated for tax purposes?
Do companies provide office equipment for teleworkers?
Technology provision differs from one situation to the next. Most employers provide technology for teleworkers. However, some employees are required to provide their own equipment, often because it was the employee’s idea to telecommute in the first place. In some instances, teleworkers first use their own equipment, and then the employer may provide more sophisticated technology once the telework has shown that working away from the office is a practical arrangement. In addition, a third option is that employees, particularly full-time teleworkers are provided a full office set-up by the employer. [top^]
Equipment issues are specific to each situation. If a teleworker has agreed to use his/her own equipment for work, the details of equipment use must be worked out before a problem arises. It is uncommon for companies to “reimburse” an employee for equipment use, as work versus personal use is difficult to measure. However, many companies do agree to provide maintenance, back-up equipment and office supplies to teleworkers. Back up equipment is important, especially for employees who frequently work on deadline. [top^]
If an employee lives in one state and teleworks for a company located in another state, which state is designated for tax purposes?
This is a complicated question. The answer varies from state to state. Check to see if there are reciprocity agreements between the two states in which the teleworker lives and works. Also, investigate whether the states have laws regarding employees who seek to move to that state and work in another. To be safe, consult a tax representative or your employer to gain the answer to this question for your specific circumstances. [top^]
Costs and Benefits
- Why would a company want to start a telework program?
- What do I need to have “in place” before offering telework?
- Why doesn’t everyone telework?
- What technology and office space should employers provide teleworkers at the corporate office?
- Do teleworkers feel lonely working by themselves?
Why would a company want to start a telework program?
There are two main reasons for a company to offer telework , but they can be combined in one answer: If done correctly, telework can benefit both the employee and the company. In a 2006 national employer telework survey conducted by MITE–Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education and Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, telework-friendly employer respondents indicated they would consider telework for several reasons, as seen in the table below. The majority of employers (73%) indicated telework helped them respond to specific employee needs. Stress is reduced, work is more enjoyable and easier, and a new sense of loyalty is developed for their jobs. Employees eliminate a daily commute or a frantic rush hour and regain a sense of control to effectively complete projects and balance work and life. Telework also provides nice rewards for employers as well. Employee retention and increased productivity rated second and third, with other respondents identifying cost savings and reduced operations costs. These rationales were not necessarily exclusive of each other. For example, as employers responded to specific employee needs by providing telework options, they also may have been striving to retain that employee.
|Employer Rationales for Starting Telework|
|Rationale (Employers could identify multiple responses)||Response|
|Respond to specific employee needs||73%|
|Recruit or retain valuable employee(s)||57%|
|Increase productivity and/or customer service||51%|
|Reduce overall opperations or occupancy costs||25%|
|Need to work with other remote teams||21%|
|Comply with ADA; increase workforce diversity||22%|
|Respond to emergency coverage or disaster recovery||16%|
|Respond to regional trip reduction requirements||15%|
The underlying fact was that telework, in most circumstances, enabled increased employee flexibility and more effective job performance, which directly and often indirectly, led to enhanced organizational productivity. Employees have increased job satisfaction, and less distractions in the office. Bottom line — they are able to do more work in less time, and do it better. Employees also often reduce travel costs in both time and money. [top^]
The majority of telework friendly employers indicated that prerequisites to offer telework to current employees included a completed probationary period, in-office work experience and a core work schedule. For those organizations that had utilized telework, employers reported several telework support strategies to enable supervisors to better manage teleworkers in general, as seen in the table below.
|General Employer Strategies to Support Telework|
|Telework Policies and Agreements||78|
|Flexible work policies||75|
|Remote access technology guidelines||67|
|Formal training for Supervisors/teleworkers||38|
Existing telework policies helped to set parameters such as eligibility, work schedule, technology requirements, work processes and performance reporting. However, research concluded that having a telework policy did not necessarily ensure that telework would be aggressively adopted. [top^]
Quite simply, telework is not for everyone. Some people need the physical separation between work and home. Others cannot focus with the distractions inherent in working from home. Some employees find it easier to stay on track seated in their cubicle with daily office operations going on all around them. And, some people just don’t do well being alone for an entire day, Part-time telework, or having the flexibility to work at home periodically, often provides a good balance so employees can work without distractions. [top^]
Technology and office space should be part of the discussion between a supervisor and employee before telework is initiated. Companies are utilizing more laptop technology, as it is less cost-prohibitive than in years past. Depending on the amount of time spent teleworking, an employee may need a laptop, may already have one, or may share a laptop among office workers. If a laptop can be shared, it may allow others in the office to telework occasionally, too. Teleworkers should have adequate space and equipment to do the work when in the office, but may not have the amount of space available in comparison to in-house employees. The supervisor can designate a space in which teleworkers can temporarily work. If a person is teleworking much of the time, they should still feel welcome and part of the team when he/she is in the office. Office sharing can also be implemented. A more important issue is one of effective connectivity by the teleworker to the employer’s technology infrastructure. Teleworkers need to effectively interface with specific applications and data to perform their job tasks. Employers need guidelines regarding remote access and security. These guidelines will often require communication with the information technology division to ensure procedures are followed and teleworkers are able to log in to the system without major challenges. [top^]
Most of the time, telework is the employee’s idea. An employee who asks to telework is often the type of person that isn’t bothered by working alone. However, as with anything that is new, teleworkers may discover that they need the daily contact with the other people in the office. Sometimes, even for those who like to telecommute, it does get a little bit lonely. Most teleworkers count on their time in the office as an opportunity to strengthen the social bonds that exist in good working relationships. [top^]
- If teleworkers only work away from the office a couple of days a week, what is the advantage of telework?
- Should teleworkers expect the company to provide home office furniture or and home-office design services?
- What is the difference between telework and working in a virtual office?
If teleworkers only work away from the office a couple of days a week, what is the advantage of telework?
This question brings to the forefront the most important, and least recognized, advantage of telework – office space. Companies can plan for other office configurations as they experience increasing numbers of employees who telework. Typically casual or ad needed telework does not decrease the amount of office space unless teleworkers are out of the office more.The advantage is that telework on a long-term basis, can reduce office space if the organization is willing to reconfigure office use. [top^]
Should teleworkers expect the company to provide home office furniture or and home-office design services?
Some companies find that the ergonomic benefits of supplying at least some of the furniture for teleworker home-offices far outweigh the cost. If an employee teleworks part-time, the company may not feel obligated to provide these basics. If the company is serious about supporting their teleworkers, the research indicates that providing ergonomically correct furniture is a sound long-term investment. However, it is very atypical for companies to supply office design services. [top^]
Technically, the only distinction between telework and working in a virtual office is the way in which the worker teleworks. The term “virtual office” refers to employees who can complete their job duties virtually anywhere. Armed with technology tools as simple as a laptop, cell phone, or blackberry, an employee can work from a car, airplane, hotel room, or just about anywhere. A telework arrangement is usually defined by a person working at a select location away from the office (usually at home). In essence, one could say that a virtual office is just one form of telework. [top^]
- What jobs are best suited for telework?
- Why can’t I just let my employees decide amongst themselves who will telework?
- As a manager, is it practical for me to telework?
- Should telework be a mandatory work arrangement for some jobs?
- Will my telework schedule make it hard for my co-workers and clients to work with me?
- Sometimes I get the worst of both worlds. My co-workers and clients either call/page me in the evening or on the weekend when I’m not working, or they don’t want to call me when I’m teleworking because I’m at home and therefore they think I’m not working. How can I correct this problem?
- What role does telework play in office politics?
- Is the workload of the support staff increased because of telework?
What jobs are best suited for telework?
Telework may not be suited for every job, but it can be adapted to many. It is important to distinguish between telework jobs and telework job functions. Some jobs can be completely performed off-site. The jobs that seem to show the most productive results from telework are information-based jobs. A survey conducted by MITE- Midwest Institute for Telework Education and the Humphrey Institute (2007) [add link to survey here (www.mite.org) found that telework opportunities existed in a wide number of sectors. The table below shows that while there was some variation between the types of work done by teleworkers between public and private employers, at least 10 different job functions were listed by respondents as being conducted by teleworkers.
|Teleworker Job Function by Sector|
|Job Functions||Government (136 respondents)||For-Profit (78 respondents)|
|Research and Analysis||39||29||18||23|
The majority of jobs were provided to employees who already had work histories with the company. Most of the telework opportunities for employees who transitioned into telework were in the profession areas such as claims review, research and analysis, office or administrative positions, customer service. In addition most job tasks within a job requiring an individual assignment as part of a team project are good situations for teleworkers. They are able to complete their part of the project away from the office, and then share their information with the rest of the group via technology. Telework may not be suited for every job, but it can be adapted to many. [top^]
Telework is not for everyone. It is a privilege, not a right – and it should be awarded because of employees’hard work, dedication and success. Thus, teleworker selection may be a formal managerial decision. When the manager goes through a formal selection process, three important things happen. First, the employees who really should be telework are selected. They fit the criteria set forth by the manager, and they are usually the employees who are self-motivated and goal-oriented. Second, a formal selection process shows employees that telework is not a way to “goof off”. And third, by setting employee characteristic criteria and spelling out teleworker expectations, all employees recognize that the manager will look at the criteria before allowing teleworkers the option. Telework may often occur occasionally and this is not unusual in today’s work world. In order to meet deadlines and better meet customer needs, it may be a temporary arrangement or used in emergency situations. [top^]
Absolutely. In fact, it is often more practical for managers to telecommute, and they become better managers because of it. The basic skills needed to successfully manage employees are communication, leadership, organizational skills and vision. As a teleworking manager, you must iron out any communication difficulties, be available when you say you will be available, and maintain consistent contact with employees. It will be important to have the faith and trust of the employees who work for you. If you return phone calls and e-mails promptly, answer employee questions satisfactorily, complete your tasks on time with quality, and generally lead by example, the telework arrangement should work out. The main part of being a manager is being able to organize both employees and resources effectively. As a manager who teleworks, this is no different, and is in fact more important. You need to make sure your employees are being used to the best of their abilities. You have to be confident that employees can complete their tasks without your direct supervision and have faith in the instructions you, as their manager, give them. In addition, your employees need to be sure that the direction in which you are taking them will benefit them as much as it will benefit you and the company. They need to feel that as a teleworker, you are still the same manager you are when you’re in the office. Managers need to have a track record of good management skills, success in working in unfamiliar situations and strong leadership skills. [top^]
To be safe, the answer would have to be no. The best thing an employer can do is offer telework as a work arrangement. By making it mandatory, the employee may feel restricted; yet sometimes this may e done due to space issues. While there are some jobs that a great majority of the employees who work can telework, it still isn’t for everyone. Some people just need the physical separation of work and home. And, making telework a mandatory part of a job may cause the employee to feel less important or a little unwanted. [top^]
That is up to you. One of the most important factors to successful telework is accessibility. It would be best to make yourself available to coworkers and clients during regular business hours. Let them know they can call you on the phone or email and they can receive a response within a reasonable time. You must also make yourself available for emergency situations, via pager, IM, or another method. Your employees need to know that they can count on you in a difficult situation. Usually the best course of action is to dedicate a block of time during regular business hours each day to talk with clients and co-workers, answering questions and delegating responsibilities. [top^]
Sometimes I get the worst of both worlds. My co-workers and clients either call or page me in the evening or on the weekend when I’m not working, or they don’t want to call me when I telework because I’m at home and therefore they think I’m not working. How can I correct this problem?
This situation reveals the importance of communication. You need to make it clear to everyone, co-workers and clients alike, exactly when you are available for business and when you should not be disturbed. Dedicate a specific time during regular business hours to check voice mail and e-mail, return messages, and answer the phone. Let everyone know that you are available at this time. By having dedicated time available, you establish credibility with clients and colleagues. You also increase your productivity by concentrating on one thing at a time. [top^]
Ideally, telework plays a very limited role in office politics. Many people enjoy the separation telework provides between their job and the politics in the office. On the other hand, some people are afraid of becoming the subject of office politics because they telecommute. And, this could honestly pose a problem. As a manager, it is your duty to be the final word in this situation. You need to make it clear that the employees who telecommute are treated the same as other employees, are not afforded any special treatment, and should not be singled out as scapegoats. [top^]
The answer varies greatly from one company to another, even one job to the next. It depends mostly on the job tasks that teleworkers cannot do that now must be passed on to the support staff. Depending on the job, this workload is sometimes substantially greater, and other times it is minimal. Resentments can arise because teleworkers may seem to be “exempt” from some work tasks simply because they don’t work in the office anymore. Decide how to streamline, eliminate, or disperse the duties that the teleworker cannot do off-site. This will make the support staff grateful, as well as a little more dedicated to their new duties. Another helpful way to ease the transition is to ensure that support staff feels appreciated. And they are a valued employee. [top^]
Telework and Family Life
Telework and Family Life
- Will a problem arise if my spouse is at home when I telework?
- I’m afraid I’ll work too much if my office is in my home. How do I avoid this temptation?
- Can dependent care and telework be done together?
- How can I keep track of my children and concentrate on my work when I telework?
- Should my office space at home be viewed as separate from the entire house, or should it be a place where my children and spouse can find me if they need me?
The answer to this question will obviously differ from one situation to the next. If your spouse interferes with your work on a regular basis, and the interference cannot be corrected, you probably should not be teleworking. The key to most successful telework arrangements is separation. Teleworker can let their family members know that when they are working, they are working, and they are not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency. As far as a spouse is concerned, a telework should expect their spouse to respect their boundaries. If these boundaries cannot be respected, then a different arrangement should be agreed upon, or the employee should stop telework. [top^]
With such easy access to work, many people find they cannot easily forget about work. One thing that works for some teleworkers is to develop a routine. Stop and start work at the same time every day and take regular breaks. At the close of the work day, shut off your computer and turn off the lights in your office. This routine provides a regular “quitting time” and will discourage you from easily getting back to work. [top^]
In almost every situation, the answer is no. One of the major benefits of telework is the opportunity to work without distractions. If teleworkers have to take care of a small child or someone who needs constant care, they will not be concentrating solely on work. The employees’ productivity will probably reflect this fact, but it’s best to avoid the problem altogether before their work suffers. While it is possible to combine telework and dependent care, it takes an extremely disciplined employee, and an almost perfect situation. [top^]
Most likely, you can’t. In almost every situation like this, the teleworker concentrates on their children more than their work, as any good parent would. Just like in a dependent care situation, the teleworker is always trying to do two things at once. This means that neither responsibility is receiving the attention it requires. The best alternative is some type of day care, usually outside of the home, but it could work inside the home as well. There needs to be a separation between work and family-life for both the teleworker and their family. The teleworker needs time to concentrate solely on work and the family needs to recognize that the teleworker for the most part should not be bothered at work. [top^]
Should my office space at home be viewed as separate from the entire house, or should it be a place where my children and spouse can find me if they need me?
Ideally, the teleworker would have a situation that could combine both of these. And it can be done, it just takes discipline. The other members of the teleworker’s family must understand that when the teleworker is working, he or she cannot be disturbed except for emergencies. The key is respect. Family members must respect the teleworkers’ time to work. At the same time, teleworkers must respect the promises they make to quit work on schedule, and be available if their help is needed. [top^]