Implementing a Telecommuting Program

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a Telecommuting Program

by Brady Hicks

Docid: 00017150

Publication Date: 2106



The concept of a work-at-home program offers a number of benefits for
employers and employees alike. Factors such as reduced energy consumption,
improved morale, lowered cost, and, more recently, improved health and safety
are all reasons to consider implementing such a policy. This idea was further
driven home in 2020 after global pandemic and federal restrictions would have
otherwise brought all business operations to a halt. Despite incurring a number
of positives, telecommuting also carries with it a number of guidelines that
should be followed in order to promote success. This report provides an
over-arching guide for enterprises looking to implement a remote-worker policy
for employees.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Telecommuting – or "teleworking" – is an increasingly popular way to do

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This form of conducting work has grown increasingly in recent years, in light
of environmental concerns, technology advances, employee morale, lower costs,
and, most recently, demands due to restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tools such as smartphones,
tablets, laptops, fax machines, e-mail, voicemail, IM (instant
messaging), text messaging, and teleconferencing foster
greater support for such mobile and remote work scenarios.

When successfully implemented, a telecommuting program can benefit the bottom
line, boost productivity and morale, and reduce turnover. Additionally, employees benefit
from a more flexible work schedule, without a commute. Like
any major program
implementation, however, successful deployment
requires proper planning; a careful, step-by-step approach; and coordination between departments
such as
IT (information technology), HR (human resources), legal, and management. Companies need to set
realistic expectations for their employees, ensure that they have the
right technology, and
develop a plan to benchmark performance. It is also crucial to be aware of regulations governing
the distribution of data, off-site.


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Advances in technology have
made it fast and
largely trouble-free to communicate with remote workers, in turn helping to reduce the
feeling of isolation for telecommuters and their employers. As
telecommuting has matured,
it has won converts in both the public
and private sectors with, in the US, strong federal support
– in large part from the Telework Enhancement Act of 20101 – and
growing support at the state and local levels. Various associations have also
been formed to promote the practice and to provide information on the subject, and
many Fortune 500 companies have implemented telecommuting programs of their own.

Adoption Statistics

According to December 2020 report by Pew Research2, approximately
currently 71 percent of US citizens face an at-home work environment, compared
to the approximately 20 percent that worked a similar schedule, pre-pandemic.
More remarkable, however, is that more than half of those surveyed – 54 percent
– indicated that they would like to continue such an arrangement "after the
coronavirus outbreak ends."


has several wide-ranging benefits:

  • Employees

    Most employees who are interested in telecommuting are
    interested because of reduced travel time and costs, flexible hours,
    and expanded work opportunities. With telecommuting in place, employees
    are not confined to jobs in a specific geographic area, but can work
    hundreds, even thousands of miles from where they live without
    traveling to get there. Telecommuting also provides workers with an
    opportunity to spend more time with their families and less time on the
    road. Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom, in 2014, noted that
    telecommuters are generally "happier," "less likely to quit," and, overall,
    "more productive."3
  • Employers
    offers organizations
    the potential to save money on everything from real estate to office
    overhead to recruitment costs. Another major benefit is that it
    broadens the market in which employers can look for candidates,
    sometimes even beyond national borders. Increased productivity, skills
    retention, flexible staffing, disaster recovery, and tax credits are
    other factors that could benefit an employer. Overall,
    organizations want to retain skilled workers and provide opportunities
    to save on expenses while retaining high-quality customer service and
    performance standards. In addition to finding benefits for employees,
    Bloom’s aforementioned research found that telecommuting boosts
  • Society – Overall,
    the public has a lot to gain in terms of social,
    economic, and – in the face of novel coronavirus and other widespread
    diseases – health benefits. Telecommuting reduces traffic
    congestion and pollution from fuel emissions, opens doors for
    persons with disabilities, and allows people who live in inaccessible or high unemployment
    areas to take advantage of better employment opportunities in other regions
    without having to move.

Figure 1 shows statistics from a sample of 8,572 "randomly selected adults" –
across various income levels – reporting their work experiences in light of
novel coronavirus.

Figure 1. 2020: Telecommuting vs. Unable to Work

Figure 1. 2020: Telecommuting vs. Unable to Work

Source: Brookings (via Gallup Panel / Reeves and Rothwell)


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Some of the more common alternatives to telecommuting – which
are similar in
nature in that they do not require a commute to an actual, physical workplace – are listed below.


A satellite office is
simply a remote office, built as an
extension of a
company’s home office. Satellite offices fall under the broad
definition of
telecommuting, but companies with numerous locations may not consider
satellite office as a telecommuting work arrangement. Satellite offices
can be
built in the same city of the main office, or they can be deployed in
states or other countries.

One incentive for
deploying a satellite office may be to
employees from
a certain location. Companies may deploy a satellite office in a
location where
the population has a high percentage of technically skilled workers or,
perhaps, a
cost-effective labor pool. For instance, the call center industry has
benefited greatly from
the satellite office configuration by creating facilities in
markets such as India, the Philippines, and the Caribbean. 


Telecenters are offices shared by several
companies. These locations are fully
with computers, printers, and
other office
amenities, such as videoconferencing connections and private meeting
rooms. The
owner of the facility is often responsible for some of these amenities,
and in some cases just one or two employees from a particular company
will work in a given location, which can make it impractical for the
company to open an entire satellite office of its own to accommodate

Telecenters, it should be noted, are not nearly as popular as
telecommuting programs.

Desk Space Rentals

This remote-work option includes a daily/weekly/monthly/annual rentals
whereby a desk – and sometimes even complete office – are made available to the

Road Warrior

The "Road
Warrior" is
perhaps the most
common type of telecommuter, since traveling salespeople are counted in
the category. Road Warriors telecommute because their jobs
require so much travel. Sales professionals with large territories
working for
companies with many satellite offices may rotate between locations.
Other job
types conducive to this type of telecommuting arrangement are trainers
in the
call center industry, who might rotate between facilities, or
retail executives who are responsible for many stores across a large

This type of telecommuting
arrangement is often implemented out of
necessity, not as a way to reduce spending. After all, companies will
spend for the travel
expenses of the Road Warrior and will need to properly outfit them with
laptops, cell phones, tablets, and other technology.

Possible Pitfalls

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One well-publicized
case of a company rejecting telecommuting
is the 2013 decision
by then-Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to suspend the practice. The move provoked criticism, but Mayer contended that it was only about Yahoo’s situation at
the time, noting “We were
just saying that it’s
not right for us, right now.”5


is not
ideal for every company, industry, or type of employee. Some of the
obstacles to implementing a telecommuting program are:

  • Executive-level opposition
  • Implementation
  • Security
  • Perceived
    in monitoring
    and motivating employees
  • Need
    for heavy client interaction
  • Clashes
    between company culture and
    telecommuting lifestyle

Employee Resistance

Furthermore, not all
employees will jump at the opportunity
to telecommute. Many people simply enjoy the structured
routine of
going to an office every day. Employees can have valid reasons, and it
is not a
good idea to force employees into telecommuting. Some of the reasons
given for
not wanting to telecommute are:

  • Desire to interact with others, face-to-face.
  • Lack of
    equipment to do
    the job at home.
  • Management style of
  • Perceived
    loss of
    control of either
    one’s employees or of one’s job.
  • Fear of


It is important to
remember that although there can be a
significant gain, establishing a successful telecommuting environment
is not easy.
technology just to reduce labor costs may not be enough to justify the
time and
resources it will take to make it work. Below are a list of
disadvantages or
concerns that an organization must face when deciding on the right

  • Cost
    – A good
    infrastructure involves
    considerable expense. Set-up and maintenance can be costly, and
    upgrades and add-ons could be required depending on the technology in
    place. Upgraded networking or security precautions can be expensive.
  • Employee
    – Some telecommuters
    report feeling
    isolated or bored. Others find the temptation for procrastination too
    great while working from home. These problems may occur less often in
    telecenters, but these sites might have less supervision, which can be
    difficult for employees who need more direction. It is also
    important that telecommuters understand that just because they are
    allowed to work from home, they are still “at work.”
  • Worker
    – A
    company can still be held responsible for protecting its
    employees, even if they are telecommuters. Legally, companies need to
    specify in detail the remote worksite and the tasks to be performed
    there. Telecommuting may involve inspection of worksites and the
    purchase of ergonomically designed equipment. Some municipalities
    require emergency egress, fire extinguishers, and other safety
    compliance conditions in a work environment. A company should find out
    what the requirements are and make sure that the home office,
    telecenter, or satellite office meets them, if applicable. Companies
    already exercise
    these responsibilities on site, but protection can be more difficult to
    ensure off site.
  • Management
    – Even with the monitoring
    available, off-site workers are more difficult to control than their
    on-site counterparts. Face-to-face interaction and staff meetings are
    less frequent. Concerns over abuse of dress code or sick time policies
    are supplanted by issues generated by family interruptions and
    undisciplined telecommuters. 
  • Security
    – Prevention of fraud and
    intrusion is a major concern with any system, but remote workers may be
    even less secure because they are spread out over an unsupervised area.
    increased use of WLANs for telecommuting has made security issues even
    more prominent. WLANs have been criticized for their poor security
    measures, including allowing for passive attacks to decrypt traffic
    based on statistical analysis, active attacks to inject new traffic
    from unauthorized mobile stations based on known plain text, active
    attacks to decrypt traffic based on tricking the access point, and
    dictionary-building attacks that allow real-time automated decryption
    of traffic. In general, wireless access will always have some type of
    security risk, and companies will be assuming some level of risk in
    using them. On the other hand, use of a WLAN is not a required element
    of telecommuting. Physical security is also a concern.
  • Remote
    – Telephone and cable
    companies do
    not always live up to the demand for high bandwidth, which may be a
    major component of successful telecommuting for a particular company.
    Slow connections cause a great deal of frustration on the part of both
    the company and the telecommuter. Organizations must determine
    how telecommuters are going to access their system, what kind of
    bandwidth is required, and whether it is offered in the telecommuter’s
  • Zoning Regulations
    – Some
    localities do not allow for the
    manufacturing, use, or production of certain products from a home. An
    organization needs to be aware of what these restrictions are. Other
    municipalities require telecommuters to obtain a permit or license to
    conduct any kind of business from home. Companies should check with
    local zoning officials.
  • Federal
    and Hour Regulations

    – The
    Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
    requires that employers maintain sufficient records to document all
    hours worked, including overtime. This can be a heavy
    burden when using telecommuters due to the amount of documentation
    required and the need for someone to process it. It is uncertain how
    well an employer can monitor hours worked and control labor costs. Many
    telecommuters are exempt from FLSA regulations, however, and those who
    are not exempt work for companies that have developed ad hoc procedures
    preauthorize and record hours and overtime worked. There are ways
    around this issue, but it can be a barrier if a company is not aware of
    the regulations.
  • Insurance
    – If a
    telecommuter is working from
    home, a homeowner’s insurance policy typically will cover home office
    use. With telecommuters, a company could add a telecommuter’s home
    office location to its insurance policy. The stipulations on what is
    and is not covered should be spelled out in a telecommuting agreement,
    so that both the company and the telecommuter are clear on regulations.
  • State
    – If an employer uses
    telecommuting arrangements in which telecommuters are located in
    another state, the company can be exposed to
    additional tax liabilities and burdens.
  • Worker’s
    – Generally, work-related
    injuries are
    covered under state workers’ compensation programs. A telecommuter may
    be injured at home, so determining whether the injury is truly work
    related is problematic because likely no one was there to
    witness it. This could lead to increased fraud and abuse. Until now,
    employers utilizing telecommuters have not reported an increase in
    worker’s compensation cases. Yet, some experts note that this could
    become a larger issue as more individuals telecommute.
  • Lack
    of Communication and Social Interaction

    – Most companies invest
    lot in equipment and
    software, but they do not properly prepare management and telecommuters
    how they will need to interact to make it effective. Staff will be in
    and out of
    the corporate office, may work at different times, and will need to
    conduct meetings
    via phone or teleconferencing. It may be necessary to make adjustments
    in the
    way staff and management communicate.

Other Pitfalls

There are several other pitfalls that companies must consider
implementing a program. Some of the most important are the following:

  • Telecommuting
    Is Not Right for Every Job

    – Organizations
    need to
    analyze each
    job to determine its suitability for a telecommuting
    arrangement. A common pitfall is to allow people to work remotely even
    though their jobs are
    really not suitable for it.
  • Telecommuting
    Is Not Right for
    Every Person
    – Employees who have not
    been in their
    current position long, are still training, or need a lot of direct
    supervision may not be good candidates. Telecommuters need to be
    self-motivated, skilled, and have the right type of home setting.
    Employees might require additional training before working from home or
    a remote location.
  • Telecommuting
    Is Not Right for Every Employer

    – An
    organization needs to
    assess its own situation. Issues such as workers’ compensation, safety
    regulations, and insurance must all be considered in light of the
    telecommuting program. The company also must consider how management
    will properly manage from a distance, how staff will be monitored, and
    what consequences there will be for poor performance.
  • Telecommuting is Not
    for Every
    – A home or
    alternative site must be
    properly equipped. Broadband access is essential, and
    additional technology, such as VPNs and security applications, must be
    installed. A disruptive home environment can be
    a problem, as can bad lighting or unsuitable furniture.
  • Telecommuting is Not
    for Every
    – Some
    projects are best performed at an organization’s office: they simply
    demand a lot of monitoring, or too much time can be wasted handing
    off portions of the project from office-based staff to telecommuters
    and vice versa. Other projects require a team effort, which can be
    difficult to maintain if everyone is at different locations.
  • Telecommuting Should
    Be an
    "All-or-Nothing" Proposition

    – Telecommuting
    does not have to be full time. Many organizations have the
    ill-conceived notion that if they implement a telecommuting program,
    then they are agreeing to it full time. One good form of home-based
    telecommuting averages one to three days per week. This configuration
    allows employees to maintain face-to-face contact with their
    supervisors and co-workers, keeping them connected to the organization.
    also provides a
    place to return to if there are problems with the telecommuting


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An organization’s decision about whether to implement telecommuting –
and if so, how to do it – can be effectively made only in the light of its
business goals. Keeping in
mind the need to
focus on business circumstances and
goals, an organization can use the following plan, based in large part
on guidance provided
by the Telework Coalition, as a framework for creating a successful
telecommuting program.

Program Planning

  • Create
    a Planning Team

    Planning is
    an essential element of any large program implementation; companies
    assemble an inter-departmental team to consider all of the implications
    that a
    program will have. This team should include executive-level managers as
    well as
    representatives from human resources, legal, IT, and managers from
    that will permit employees to telecommute. Appointing a dedicated
    manager might be necessary for large-scale implementations. It
    important that the planning team involve managers from the departments
    that will be participating. Telecommuting is not ideal
    for every
    employee or every job, so companies should not take a “one
    fits all” approach.
  • Get Educated – Ad hoc programs that
    are not carefully
    designed with an organization’s best interests in mind will likely turn
    into a nightmare, potentially souring management’s opinion on the
    concept. The
    planning team needs to carefully examine the effects that telecommuting
    may have on the company. They need to identify which positions are most
    suitable for telecommuting, identify the technology requirements,
    address compliance issues, and develop a matrix for qualifying
  • Research
    Legal Issues

    – Many of the issues discussed in the section on possible pitfalls
    should be researched during the planning
    stage, including zoning regulations, safety, worker’s compensation, and
    insurance. It is important that each of these issues is clearly
    understood and outlined for both upper management and telecommuters. In
    many cases, workers’ compensation, safety, and
    insurance will be areas touched on in the telecommuter agreement (see
    below). Other issues to consider include the following:

    • Risk
      : The
      planning team needs to consider how the employer will be held liable
      for telecommuters’ safety. How will confidential documents be
      safeguarded with telecommuters? What is the company’s legal
      authority for denying an employee’s request to
    • Laws
      and Taxes
      : What
      is perhaps most remarkable about telecommuting, so far, is how little
      litigation it has spawned. The consensus is that most telecommuters, to
      date, have been high-performing, highly motivated workers who do not
      want to jeopardize their remote-access freedom by filing suit.
      Nevertheless, as more employees telecommute, some as a condition of
      employment, a rise in litigation can be
    • Safety: Employers are
      obligated to maintain a safe work environment for their employees, but
      most employers are loath to inspect employee home offices for fear of
      invasion of privacy issues. One solution is to get a contract signed by
      the employee attesting that the home office meets safety standards.
      Some employers require pictures of the home office.
  • Make
    the Decision –
    Once the
    planning team is educated about telecommuting and about the environment
    in which it operates, team members can begin to make a decision about
    whether telecommuting will work. It is important to understand why a
    telecommuting program is being implemented, what the objectives are,
    and who will be the most affected by it. Below is a list of several
    questions that should be asked to help guide the planning

    • How
      many people are likely to be affected?
    • What
      will need to
      change? What is happening now that already fits in with these
    • How
      will telecommuting
      customer service and satisfaction?
    • Will
      regulatory bodies
      such as OSHA need to be
    • Are
      managers going to
      support the
      program? Do employees even want it?
    • How will the Board of
      Directors, CEO, and other company leaders react to it?
  • Plan the Program – Having
    a diverse
    planning team will play a
    significant part at this stage, because feedback from all
    representatives will be useful in organizing a program that meets the
    needs of all affected. It is important to be careful not to
    overanalyze. Although a planning team wants to make a comprehensive
    assessment, sometimes so much is put into planning that a program can
    get stuck there. Put a deadline on it. Working with a reasonable time
    limit will keep things moving along. Below is a list of issues that
    should be addressed while in the planning stages:

    • Organizational
      resources and deficiencies
    • Alternative
      telecommuting models to accommodate weaknesses and budget constraints
    • What
      resources need
      to be acquired
    • Training and
      support costs.
  • Set
    Standards for Selecting Telecommuters –
    type of
    process needs to be in place for determining who
    will be allowed to telecommute and who will not. One mistake is to
    choose telecommuters solely by position. Just
    because a person has a suitable position for telecommuting does not
    automatically make that person a good telecommuter. For example, some
    people need structure, are not disciplined, do not have a
    conducive home environment, or simply do not want to telecommute.
    Therefore, the planning team must set some standards. Is the employee
    willing to telecommute? Does the employee have the environment the
    company needs? Is the employee self-disciplined, motivated, results
    oriented, flexible, accountable, organized, and so on?
  • Be Flexible
    – Companies should be flexible toward developing a telecommuting
    program. Instead of creating an all-or-nothing program where employees
    are allowed to work remotely full-time, businesses should consider
    approaches in which employees split their time between the office and
    working remotely.
  • Determine the Scope
    – Although by this point the planning team should already have a good
    idea of what positions are suitable for telecommuting, now it also
    needs to consider who the ideal candidate for telecommuting is. Can a
    brand new employee participate, or does someone have to be in-house for
    a specified period of time? What is a suitable home office?
    Furthermore, the planning team needs to consider management. What is
    the ideal manager for telecommuters like? Guidelines for choosing
    candidates should be fair across the board and should encompass all of
    the characteristics needed by the company. Finally, the planning team
    should also consider whether they will run a pilot program or start
    with a full launch.
  • Conduct a Cost Analysis
    – Companies who are interested in implementing a telecommuting program
    may be able to save money on overhead costs, but they must also
    consider that there may be increased IT expenditures for VPN
    connections, laptops, communications services, and remote technical
  • Establish Performance Benchmarks
    – Businesses need to establish benchmarks against which they can
    evaluate their telecommuting employees. Managers should sit down with
    people who are going to be involved in the telecommuting program to
    determine acceptable performance measures. Is there an effective way to
    gauge employee productivity in a telecommuting environment, and should
    the benchmarking criteria be different from the criteria used for
    employees who work in the office?


the planning phase is complete, the following steps should be

  • Draft
    a Telecommuting
    Policy –
    An organization can use a telecommuting agreement
    that is signed by it and
    by employees to define factors such as the cases in which working
    remotely is acceptable and the rules that apply to the practice. A
    sample of such an agreement comes from the University of California,
    Berkley, whose agreement template defines factors such as when
    where employees can telecommute and requires that university-owned
    technology will only be used for business purposes.7
  • Make IT Preparations
    – A company’s IT team needs to forecast what equipment will be required
    to successfully and safely connect a telecommuter to the corporate
    network. A company cannot totally secure itself from attacks,
    particularly when using wireless technology and when conducting
    business from remote locations, and a telecommuting situation presents
    several challenges: secure communications, physical security, and
    environmental concerns, to name a few. The following actions can help
    to overcome these challenges:

    • Educate Telecommuters on Security Risks:
      Telecommuters need to be educated about security risks and required to
      enable personal desktop firewalls and virus scanners. In some cases, it
      can even be grounds for termination if an employee turns off these
      features. Companies can purchase products to help them monitor these
      processes and ensure that they are being followed. 
    • Secure the Network:
      It is helpful to implement a firewall that limits open ports and
      Internet programs and that warns administrators if a machine is a
      target for attack. A firewall lets a company dictate policy and
      prevents users from disabling it, or at least makes it harder for them
      to do so. Also, a company can push out new policy files and firewall
      software without user intervention. 
    • Communicate:
      Telecommuters should be informed that, in order to avoid the
      downloading of viruses, the company’s equipment should not be used for
      personal matters. This goes for both the telecommuter and those who
      live with and visit the telecommuter. In fact, some companies are even
      requiring that telecommuters purchase a separate broadband connection
      for personal Internet access.
  • Select Candidates
    – Now is the time to make sure that all staff members are on board with
    the program. Managers will need to begin the application process and
    selecting candidates. The planning team should also consider how it is
    going to present the program to those staff members who remain in the
    office. It is important that they remain motivated and help support the
  • Conduct Thorough Training
    – Once a formal training system has been designed, the planning team
    can begin the process of educating both telecommuters and managers.
  • Perform a Pilot
    – Although many companies do not like to pilot, a short-term pilot of,
    say, six months is advisable to iron out wrinkles and prevent problems
    on a large-scale basis. Most organizations fail with pilots because
    they conduct them for too long or fail to set them up as miniature
    versions of the real thing, so they do not properly preview a
    large-scale rollout.


Once the
program is
implemented, the planning team should
fine-tune it and solicit feedback to help eliminate any problems. After
program has been up and running at full scale for
awhile, the planning team should regroup to consider further expansion
of the
program and to ensure that the original vision of the program is still
Are managers and telecommuters following the terms of the
agreement? Have
new needs developed that need to be addressed? It is important that
once a
program has been put in place that it be periodically reviewed and
revised to
ensure continued success.

at all
stages of implementing a telecommuting program, from initial planning
through ongoing program management, the planning team should avail
itself of the latest intelligence relative to telecommuting security.
For example, the US Office of
Personnel Management’s “Guide to Telework in the Federal Government” is
a helpful resource even for organizations outside the public sector.


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to Telework in the Federal Government:
National Institute of Standards and Technology:
US Office of Personnel Management:

About the Author

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Brady Hicks is an
editor with Faulkner Information Services. He writes about computer and
networking hardware, software, communications networks and equipment, and the

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