Telecommuting makes good business sense in many ways, including for small businesses. Despite this many aren’t allowing telecommuting…yet. While there are many positives, there are some legitimate concerns. Doing your homework ahead of time is crucial.

Review your liability with your insurance agent in case someone is hurt working while at home. If the person will only work from home, determine from your CPA whether or not they are still employees or should be classified as independent contractors.

Review which positions make sense to do a trial run of telecommuting. Not all do.

Why allowing some telecommuting is good for your small business:

  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Often increases productivity
  • Improves morale
  • Increases loyalty and retention
  • Improves recruitment
  • Depending on the number of employees telecommuting, it can reduce the space you need and the associated costs

Why telecommuting is good for the employee:

  • Improves work/life balance
  • Decreases commuting and other costs (dining out, business attire, dry cleaning)
  • Improves morale

There is a myth that if you allow one employee to telecommute (that is, work from home via computer), you will have to allow them all. I’m not sure why people believe this but you can require that interested employees develop a business case for working from home. Set requirements about performance, attendance and discipline ahead of allowing employees to apply.

Do a test run. If you have a number of interested employees (you will), examine each position for the feasibility. Not all positions lend themselves to being away from your business, but many do. Once you’ve determined that the employees meet eligibility requirements, have a one-on-one conversation with them. Questions include:

  • Where in their home will they work?
  • Do they have a quiet private workspace in their home? (children and pets should be prohibited from their workspace if they will be taking business calls)
  • Will they work traditional hours or will you base their productivity on results (for more read about ROWE: Results Only Work Environment)?
  • Who is responsible for computer equipment, phone lines, office supplies, etc?
  • Why should they be allowed to work from home?

Once you have a pool of strong contenders who have built their business cases for telecommuting, select a few of those employees and allow them to start working from home 2-3 days per week. Make sure you’ve decided, in advance, what a successful test of telecommuting will look like.

Schedule routine follow-up meetings to determine what challenges your telecommuters are facing and what their successes are. Review your own criteria and continue to monitor over a one year period. If the test is successful, write and implement a policy on allowing telecommuting.

Times change and small businesses must keep up! Technology, including high-speed internet and smart phones, can enable the smallest of businesses to allow some employees to work from home.

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by Steven Schlagel