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Considering teleworking?
How to create a formal telework policy

By Michael Dziak

 More and more people today are working from home ... and the airport, the hotel room and the car. With cell phones, wireless Internet connections and beeping palm devices, the mobile worker, or teleworker, has become an essential player in even the most conservative organizations.

The question is, has your organization embraced remote work - or are you simply winking at the "over-achievers" who work at home and hoping their less industrious co-workers don't ask? While most knowledge-based businesses have teleworkers, a relatively small percentage have formalized their programs to increase control and reduce risk.

For example, have you given any thought to liabilities such as these?

• How would you handle a workers' compensation claim made by a technician for an injury that occurred while on call at home?

• What are the potential losses if your chief financial officer's notebook computer with sensitive company information was stolen while at the airport?

• How is the home office affected by OSHA regulations and ergonomics policies?

• How would you defend a discrimination suit from a worker who wants to telework but really shouldn't?

With more and more employees joining the ranks of the teleworkers, it's time to be asking these and other questions. A set of rules and a strong voice to champion them can significantly reduce your liabilities.

The first step is a written telework policy with accompanying procedures to establish the rules of engagement, reduce the number of decision points for participants and, if done properly, assure long-term telework success. Here are 10 recommended components to an effective telework policy:

1. A letter to employees from the executive champion - An executive cover letter can be thought of as the introduction of the program to the company. It is an excellent vehicle to explain how the decision was made, who will initially be involved, the significance of the program to the future of the organization, the qualification criteria, and how telework employees should be viewed.

2. A policy overview providing answers to common questions - Throughout the program development process, rumors of telework will no doubt be circulating. A well-written policy overview can define the program, answer obvious questions, neutralize any misconceptions and misinformation, describe how telework will affect employees, and create a clear image of how teleworking will work.

3. Primary governing guidelines and statements - These are the telework "rules of engagement" under which all participants must operate. The detail of the policy is converted into procedures for such activities as daily reporting, tracking equipment and supplies, dependent care, how to contact technical support, insurance, overtime, maintaining a safe and productive home office, who pays for expenses, and many other details.

4. Participant selection criteria - Let's face it: Telework is not for everyone. There are a variety of reasons why an individual would not be successful in a telework environment. A fair, effective teleworker selection process can eliminate false expectations, misunderstandings and the potential for discrimination claims.

5. A Teleworker Agreement with remote work tips, guidelines and expectations - Much like traffic laws, a well-written policy and set of procedures establish the rules of engagement, assuring consistency as telework issues arise and decisions are made. The Teleworker Agreement, which outlines the conditions under which teleworking will occur, can be looked upon as a "driver's license" to the telework information superhighway.

6. Telemanager tips, guidelines and expectations - In the early '90s, the biggest barrier to expanding the Federal Flexiplace Telework Program (according to interviews with employees, managers and union representatives) was "management resistance." Successful programs equip managers with remote management tips, operating guidelines and clear telework expectations for managing people from a distance.

7. Training courses with minimums, guidelines and expectations - Alice Bredin, author of Training and Maintaining the Successful Teleworker, states that teleworkers who receive training outperform their untrained counterparts. Teleworkers, telemanagers and co-workers all need to receive thorough orientation and instruction to be well-prepared for the remote work experience.

8. Guidelines for equipment ownership, services and support - One of the most potentially controversial questions you will hear is, "Who's going to pay for the equipment in my home office?" Your remote technology budget must be developed and justified through a business case analysis. No matter who pays for the equipment, it must be maintained and supported to ensure consistent, productive telework.

9. A dispute appeals process - How would you respond to an employee who meets the selection criteria, but whose manager still refused to allow him or her to telework? What would you do if a teleworking employee filed a workers' compensation claim arising from an injury that you were convinced occurred in the home office, but the claim was rejected by the corporate compensation litigator? There are a variety of ways to handle disputes, but the key is to establish a fair and equitable system on the day of the first telework activity.

10. Metrics for measuring program and teleworker performance - How will you gauge your telework program's success? The answer will come from the planning process and the metrics you install from the beginning of your program.

The bottom line: Developing a detailed telework program policy cannot only reduce the transition time and effort to teleworking, it can also save a great deal of money in the long run.

Telework consultant Michael Dziak is the president of Georgia-based InteleWorks and the author of The Remote Control System Pro, a comprehensive manual for developing a telework program without a consultant.

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