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Structuring a Remote Working Program

One speaker at SHRM’s talent management conference made me realize just how messy employees’ working from home can be for employers logistically. But it ultimately will be worth it, after doing the right things from the very beginning.

Remote working has shifted from a trend to a strategy necessary in the war for talent. It’s not going anywhere. It’s a competitive advantage.

And with that comes many considerations. Employers must ask, if I am to adapt remote working as a benefit to employees, what do I need to know? What are all of those logistic, legal and management-related things that I can’t afford to ignore from the very start?

This was the theme of David Lewis’ lecture at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Acquisition conference in Chicago. Lewis, president and CEO of HR consulting company Operations Inc., brought up several important points any employer considering a remote working option should remember. He was very pro-remote work — benefits include shorter commutes, a broader access to talent and less need for office spaces — but also realistic in pointing out the structure and rules for a successful remote working program.

One key message was that although remote working is an option employers should consider, it’s not an option for everybody. It’s not a universal employee right. Leaders should look at each position objectively and decide whether it’s a job that can be done remotely. Some jobs simply can’t.

On an individual level, good performers who have proven that they are productive and reliable are solid candidates, while bad performers are not. That guy who always needs somebody looking over his shoulder or holding his hand throughout the day? He would not be productive working from home.

For employees who have the green light to work remotely: It’s not all hunky-dory from there. Employers should know what kind of office space this employee is working in. Is it an environment conducive to household interruptions? How is this person’s internet speed? If this person needs a better internet connection, who pays for it? (Usually the company does, said Lewis.) Does workers’ comp cover the work-from-home injuries?

The type of office furniture an employee uses is a consideration as well, said Lewis. What if their chair causes back problems? What if their desk is at an awkward height and hastens other physical problem?

Many companies will provide certain amenities for a home office, like technological needs (computer, printer, potentially internet). This could also apply to furniture. Some companies provide an allowance for this, said Lewis; others may provide the same standard furniture to remain consistent to all employees.

Start the conversation with, What do you already have? If this employee already has an appropriate chair and desk, great, that’s one less furniture set to deal with.

One final takeaway was that some managers will naturally be paranoid that remote workers just can’t be as productive as working in-office. Don’t decide that remote working isn’t working and take away the option because of paranoia, said Lewis. Rely on metrics and hard data for something like that.

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I spoke with a co-worker about this session later in the day. His consensus was that a lot of this sounded like way too much micromanaging. I don’t disagree; I wouldn’t want my employer measuring my at-home desk and scrutinizing my work-from-home environment with a fine-tooth comb. The desk I use is a giant rectangle of wood with four metal legs from an old Ikea table. I don’t know how tall it is. It’s covered with dried acrylic paint and to-do lists written in Sharpie. But it’s cleared off except for my lamp, essential oil diffuser and laptop when I work from home, and it’s never caused me any problems. Still, I don’t think it’d pass the test.

What I got out of this session was less about the micromanaging and more about the idea behind it: Remote working isn’t going anywhere. And having clear guidelines and rules from the very beginning isn’t a bad idea for employers who want a consistent working-from-home policy. Some sort of framework that deals with potential future legal issues like workers’ comp or OT would be helpful.

Ultimately, as long as the employee is hitting their deadlines and continuing to be productive even when working at home, I’d hope most companies would ignore some of the more nitpicky things in the remote-working guidebook, like chairs and desks.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below, or email at editor@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.