Six Issues to Consider When Managing Remote Employees

office home silo man description sizeAllowing employees to work from home can provide significant benefits for your staff and your company. It can improve morale, reduce real estate and facility costs. It can even reduce traffic congestion and make the environment cleaner.

However, appropriate oversight is necessary to avoid potential fraud and abuses that can wipe out many, if not all, of the benefits associated with a work-from-home program.

Pros

Cons

Cost savings.
Having employees work from home can reduce demand for office space and cut facility operating and parking costs.
Not for everyone.Some employees
fear less “face time” will reduce chances for promotion. Others need an office environment.
Work/ life balance.
There is more time for employees to care for their loved ones and address home emergencies.
Time disputes. 
Without a system to record hours, disputes may arise over the time actually worked.
It’s green.
Reducing the number of commutes to the workplace saves fuel, reduces vehicle carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
Performance fears.Managers may equate remote work with lower performance and may need to adjust to a culture oriented more to results than processes.
Continuity.
Working from home may mean that at least some of your company’s operations can continue during a snowstorm, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency.
Security.
The IT infrastructure must be properly designed. Some jobs may simply not be able to be performed at home for security reasons.
Accommodation.
Working from home can better accommodate individuals with disabilities.
Friction.
Staffers in the workplace may resent remote workers.
Enhanced performance.
Remote workers may exceed their performance in the traditional workplace. Many report that they convert the old drive time into productive working hours. There may be fewer interruptions andabsenteeism may drop.
Worsened performance. 
Outside a traditional structure, some employees may lose productivity by cleaning house, watching their young children, watching television or being otherwise distracted.
Job satisfaction.
Working from home can increase personal freedom and flexibility, improve morale, and decrease stress.
Safety. 
There may be liabilities if employees are injured off-site. Consult with your attorney.
Retention and recruitment. 
Offering a work-at-home option can boost your company’s attractiveness in the job market and lead to reduced turnover.
Equipment cost, loss and damage. 
You must address who pays for equipment, how it is to be used and what to do if it is lost, stolen or damaged.
Staying in touch.
Using instant messaging, conference calls, webinars, collaboration software and other technology can help employees feel less isolated.
Team conflicts.Relationship problems among remote teams can be harder to resolve than those among on-site employees.

Before allowing employees to commute to their home-based desks, answer the following questions to help ensure that you minimize the risks and maximize the returns of the program:

1. Which jobs make sense from home?

There are numerous positions within a company that, despite pleas to the contrary from employees, are not suitable candidates for a work-from-home program.

For example, allowing a manager with a broad span of control to work at home is typically not a good idea. Managing by phone is far less effective than being physically present. Also, employees are likely to resent that their manager works from home while they are stuck in the office.

Before announcing a work-from-home program, identify all of the positions that will not be allowed to participate. Be sure to engage your company’s legal counsel to ensure that the process does not violate employment law or create employee relations issues.

2. Which employees will be eligible?

For employees that are underperforming or have a track record of discipline issues, working from home may be viewed as an opportunity to “hide out” and avoid the scrutiny that comes from working in an office. Together with your human resources department, develop criteria that employees must meet in order to be considered for the program.

For example, you might require candidates to earn a “meets expectations” rating in their performance reviews and have no outstanding discipline issues.

3. How will you monitor productivity?

There is an assumption that once employees are allowed to work from home their productivity will at least be equal to their “in office” performance — or may even be better. This may be true, but for employees who have never worked from home before, the distractions of home life (including a significant other, young children, noisy next-door neighbors or just plain loneliness) may be too much to bear and their productivity may actually decline.

This begs the question: Once an employee is out of sight, how will their performance be monitored? There are a number of technology solutions that can track keystrokes, periodically capture pictures of the employee’s computer screen as well as record activity within specific software systems. Regardless of the approach used, there must be some mechanism to track productivity and ultimately performance.

4. Should home workers use company computers?

An employee’s personal computer may not have the most up-to-date virus software in place and that raises the risk that the person could download a virus that could affect both the home computer and the company’s entire network. It is also conceivable that the employee’s computer can be accessed by other members of the family. That raises a real concern of data loss or theft, as well as disclosure of customers’ private information.

There can also be problems if an employee is working on a personally owned computer and the employer receives an e-discovery request. Electronically stored information is routinely requested in civil and criminal proceedings. Complying can be difficult if, for example, an employer doesn’t know what files or records employees have on their home computers or if an employee alters files or destroys them after an e-discovery request is received.

If at all possible, remote employees should only be allowed to use company-issued computers. Doing so ensures that the employee’s computer is subject to the same virus and system upgrades as the rest of the company issued devices and less likely to contract an infection that could bring the company’s information technology infrastructure to its knees. Mandating that employees use company computers also reduces the risk that your business will be unable to comply with an e-discovery request.

5. What happens if data does go “missing?”

Allowing employees to work in their home offices can give them the false impression that no one is watching what they are actually doing with the company’s data. Before your company launches a work-from-home program, think about the data that remote employees can access as well as what would happen if that data were lost, stolen or misplaced.

For example, if an employee working from home decides to steal confidential data, how would your company know? If the employee was the victim of a home invasion and the company laptop was stolen, several issues arise:
1. How much of the company’s data is stored on that laptop?
2. Is it encrypted?
3. What could your company do to limit or mitigate the potential damage?

6. What about travel expenses?

The potential for expense fraud and abuse by remote employees should be a major concern. One of the simplest ways to combat expense fraud by work-from-home employees is to ensure they are appropriately identified in the company’s expense reimbursement system as remote employees.

For example, most expense reimbursement systems require that an employee include their home office or base on their expense statement. For remote employees that designation could appear as Remote or VE (virtual employee) or WFH(work from home). The actual naming convention is not important. What is important is that your company can periodically target expense reimbursement requests from remote employees to ensure that expenses are reasonable, consistent with their remote status and consistent with company policy.

With appropriate policies, management and safeguards in place, you can help ensure that your company reaps the benefits of a work-from-home program and that employees perform at their best, whether they are working down the hall in the workplace or in their home, or in an off-site office far away.

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