Do This Before You Let Employees Work From Home

Offering remote work options can boost efficiency and morale.

Do you let your employees work from home, or are you considering allowing it?

If so, there are a few key things to keep in mind. For starters, make sure that anyone who wants to work from home has been doing a good job for some time. Telecommuting should not be a reward for mediocrity.

Another tip: set clear expectations from the start. Is telecommuting allowed one day a week? At the employee’s discretion? How will employees stay connected with the office? Put these terms in writing to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“If you’re like most business owners, you probably have some big concerns about letting your employees work at home, while on the road or at a remote location,” writes Jill Ijundi for I Think Bigger. “At a minimum, the employer and the employee need to agree on the terms and conditions of their telecommuting arrangement. There should to be a clear framework for progress reporting, meetings and deliverables. Some companies do this informally; some actually create legal contracts outlining responsibilities, work hours, agreement duration and consequences for lack of delivery.”

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Telecommuting is on the Rise
More than 4.5 million American workers currently telecommute, according to data from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s an increase of 159 percent since 2005. Options include working remotely full-time, doing so one or two days a week, and flex schedules.

Included in this group are a growing number of law firms. They’re finding that telecommuting helps with recruiting, retention and employee wellbeing. It can also reduce office overhead and increase efficiency.

But is it right for your firm? Before making the plunge, here are some tips to ensure it works out for everybody.

  • Stay connected. “Telecommuting requires a high level of diligence from an IT perspective,” writes Ijundi. “Not only do you have to know your network, you have to know the employee’s, too. It’s critical to test the equipment, networks and connections the telecommuter will be using to make sure everything works properly from the remote location. If you don’t have the expertise to do this, be sure to hire someone who does.”
  • Keep data secure. What devices will the remote worker use? Are these devices secure? Will the worker be taking law firm data off-premises? If so, safety precautions are necessary. Tip: create a written policy on using mobile devices, accessing the firm’s database, and preventing cyber events.
  • Make sure telecommuting benefits your firm. Some employees may want to work from home because of their personal needs (caring for children, transportation issues, etc.). That’s fine, but it’s not solely about their needs and desires. The arrangement also has to benefit your firm as well.
  • Discuss costs and expenses. “Know what equipment will be used (either the employee’s own or provided by the employer) and whether the employee will be entitled to reimbursement for things like Internet connection and phone charges,” writes Ijundi.
  • Do it on a trial basis. After the trial run, it should become apparent whether it’s a good idea or not.
  • Trust but verify. Obviously, a successful telecommuting plan requires a degree of trust. But don’t rely on trust alone. Says Ijundi, “Employees still need to check in and be a part of the office, if only virtually. Sign up with a reliable conferencing service (Skype and FaceTime are easy and cost-effective) so the employer and employee can still see each other, share information and ensure the employee is still an effective part of the team.”
  • Have a backup plan. If the experiment doesn’t work out – or if the employee quits or is fired – you’ll need a plan for retrieving firm property, safeguarding data and bringing closure to the relationship.

A final thought: there is no one-size-fits-all telecommuting solution. Come up with a plan that works for you.

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