Avoiding Problems with Remote Employees
Remote employees are staff who work somewhere other than the main office, thus working apart from most coworkers and supervisors. They may work from home while telecommuting, travel extensively without setting foot in the main office or work at a construction site far from the main office.
What can you do to avoid problems when managing telecommuters and remote employees?
The demands of family life can lead employees to seek remote work opportunities. However, kids in the house and working remotely may not be practical. A demanding baby is neglected when Mom has to answer a sales call, and the potential customer could be lost if Mom puts the customer on hold to feed the baby.
If a parent is working from home, it should be while the kids are at school, when the spouse or babysitter is watching them, after the kids are in bed or when the kids are old enough to not require supervision. Remote work doesn't work when someone tries to be a stay at home parent and full time remote worker.
Be careful that remote employees are not expected to be online for all business hours for all work sites. If you expect a remote worker to be online at 8 AM your time, the same time employees arrive on the East coast, do not turn around and demand that they attend 5 PM West coast meetings regularly, essentially putting in longer days than those who are working in the office.
Avoid favoritism in giving permission to employees to work from home. This is a business decision. If remote work is given to those who are seen as the boss' favorites and not the best performers, those remaining in the office may resent remote workers or management. Allow telecommuting and remote work for those individuals in which it will dramatically improve productivity or allow it for everyone if specific conditions are met.
Before starting remote work, make it clear that it is for a probationary period. Then enforce that probationary period. If someone fails to complete work assignments or is suspected of not working when at home, bring them back into the office.
Before hiring remote workers, determine whether they and you would be better served hiring them as contractors or as employees. As contractors, they are free to pursue other projects during a lull in work from your organization. And you do not have to pay them when they are not working on projects for you.
If the tasks the remote worker would be doing are project by project, consider hiring them as contractors on a per-project basis to maintain flexibility in both of your budgets. However, you should consult with a legal expert before converting a current employee to a contractor when they move from the corporate office to the home office.
Do not demand that remote workers dress in formal business wear unless they are visiting employees. It does not matter if someone is creating a sales presentation or checking on a server dressed in jeans and a T-shirt if no one else will see them. However, you can require them to follow the dress code when they are in the office.
Consult with Human Resources before classifying telecommuting remote workers as contractors. If they perform the same job duties as before, you cannot classify them as contractors, drop their benefits and raise their employment taxes without running afoul the law.
Trust and Security
Employees who work remotely and have said they want to quit should be brought back into the office and given tighter supervision to prevent data loss or poor productivity while they train a replacement. Data leak protections on your corporate network may not stop a remote salesman from emailing a contact list to his new boss from a personal computer.
Think twice before offering remote work to someone who has said they would like to quit because of the job's demands. They make enjoy the schedule flexibility while hunting for a new job.
Require remote employees and telecommuting employees to return all IT assets before taking a leave of absence or extended vacation. If the item is not in their possession, it cannot be lost or misused. What if someone uses their personal device to access work systems? They'll still have it, but be respectful and don't ping them for input when they're supposed to be off relaxing or at home recovering.
Limit or prohibit remote workers from working off public wi-fi networks. While they gain the social camaraderie of the coffee house, hackers can spoof the wireless router and capture their files as they are transferred. Or a camera's picture of their screen is enough to steal sensitive information.
For security reasons, those working at home must segregate work and personal computing. While it is devastating to lose a personal computer and the personal financial information on it, theft of a remote worker's computer could give thieves sensitive workplace information as well. If someone is working from home, it is safer if they work on a company provided laptop than a personal computer. If the person is working on a personal computer, it should be off limits to spouses, children and visitors. Furthermore, company data should never be stored on it.