Much has been written about the benefits of telecommuting for both employers and employees. Allowing employees to work remotely helps recruit and retain top talent, increases productivity for those that work better alone, and helps efforts to combat global warming (removing the cost of fuel is easier on both the environment and the wallet). Companies have even touted the money saved by not having to purchase additional real estate or renovate existing space to accommodate employee growth. At Aetna, 47% of their employees telecommute. According to CEO Mark Bertolini, because of telecommuting, Aetna was able to reduce real estate costs by cutting 2.7 million square feet of office space, which has resulted in $78 million in cost savings per year.

As beneficial as a well-run telecommuting program can be, a poorly run program can cause serious problems. In February of 2013 Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer set off a firestorm of debate when she put a ban on the company’s once flexible telecommuting policy. Mayer claimed having employees present in the office would improve communication and collaboration, but there were rumblings in the industry that Yahoo’s telecommuting environment was failing because it had no strong policy in place, no real oversight. Many critics felt that Yahoo should have employed the more surgical approach of improving the existing telecommuting policy rather than the sledgehammer approach of implementing a total companywide ban.

So what can an employer do to craft a structured, thoughtful telecommuting policy? Here are top considerations employers should make when creating a solid telecommuting policy.

Determine eligibility: Telecommuting can be a wonderful benefit, but it is not for everyone. By their very nature, some jobs may not be suitable for telecommuting. As an example, Gap, Inc. is a big proponent of a ROWE (results-only work environment) model. This model works at their corporate office, but cannot be applied to employees who work in retail sales at their brick and mortar stores.E

Eligibility to participate in a telecommuting program may also depend on the person’s past work performance, ability to work independently, history of accountability, years on the job or any number of other criteria. Either way, before giving the green light to a telecommuting program you’ll want to make sure you determine who is eligible, the criteria for eligibility and consistently apply the same standard to all eligible employees.

Set Expectations. One of the major reasons companies can be hesitant to implement a telecommuting policy is the fear that they will lose control of their employees and be unable to ascertain whether employees are doing their work or not. With clearly set, measurable expectations, this should not be a problem. Expectations to set forth in your policy should include:

  • Time of day in which employees need to be reachable via email or phone
  • Work they are expected to produce
  • Deadlines by which work is expected
  • Frequency and method by which they are expected to communicate
  • How often the employee will be allowed to telecommute

Lines of Communication.With remote workers, it is exceedingly important to stay in communication with your team. Establish ahead of time how this will be done. Between video conferencing services like Skype and Google Hangouts, and Instant Messaging tools like Google IM and Jabber, there are plenty of options out there to choose from.

Workspace requirements. Set expectation for what employee’s workspaces must be like. The area should be clean, safe and quiet with easy accessibility to any technology and tools needed to do the job. Make sure to clarify what the company will provide versus what the employee will provide.

Cybersecurity. While employers considering implementing telecommuting programs often focus on the productivity and accountability of their staff, an often overlooked element of remote work is the security of the corporate data workers are accessing outside of the secure office network. Enabling employees to work remotely opens up the likelihood that they’ll use their work devices to communicate via unsecured public networks like those at coffee shops. Make sure computers have up-to-date antivirus software installed. Password-protect all business devices and make sure that data going out from all devices is encrypted. Keep a current inventory of all devices and make sure each one has its GPS tracking turned on. Additionally, install technology to remotely wipe data from any device that has been lost or stolen.

Privacy Policies. If employees are handling clients’ private data make sure they understand what they need to keep private and how to legally comply with private information. Handling healthcare information? HIPAA still applies wherever you work so make sure to train people on how to lock up private health information. If an employee’s job involves handling client credit card information make sure they comply with the applicable standards for safeguarding that information

Technology Requirements. Identify the technology and tools people will need to have in place to work remotely. This includes:

  • Laptop with a reliable high speed internet connection.
  • Remote email access – Office 365 is a great option as it provides both email and cloud-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • File sharing capabilities – If your remote access system does not allow for access to shared drives and folders, a file sharting system like DropBox is a great solution.
  • Video conferencing capabilities – make sure laptops have built in cameras/video conferencing capabilities
  • Phone- Make sure that when using a mobile phone, that the workspace has strong cell phone reception.
  • Printer and scanner

Once you have your policy in place, you’ll want to create a telecommuting agreement for the employee to sign.

There are many questions to ask before jumping in to the world of a remote access workforce. However, with a well-structured telecommuting policy in place, you are on the road to creating a successful telecommuting program in which both employees and employers will benefit.