Employers Must Be Prepared for the Growing Trend of Work-at-Home Employees

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According to a 2009 study only 2.5 million employees (not including the self-employed) considered home their primary place of business during 2008. Include those who worked remotely from other locations, and that number increases to 17.2 million. Some labor experts, however, think that approximately 40% of the total U.S. workforce could work at home at least part-time.

This is a growing trend that must be on employers’ radar because the economic and social benefits are likely to make work-at-home an alternative that employers and employees can’t overlook.

From the employer’s perspective, a work-at-home policy can create happier, less-stressed employees and improve productivity and results. In some instances, companies may need less commercial space, which, in turn, reduces other costs, such as utilities, furniture, etc.

Employees benefit because they commute less days, saving on gasoline, auto maintenance and lunches. They may also be able to eliminate childcare costs and nurse a sick child or recover from a pregnancy easier while remaining productive, especially if their employers cannot provide additional leave time.

Clearly, some industries are structured to allow this transformation. Many professionals working in communication (marketing, advertising, design, media, etc.) and the arts are already working at home. Employees of the computer/Internet technology industry are also able to work at home most, if not all, of the time, since they can do their work from a computer. This is also starting to apply to telemarketing and similar companies. Conversely, food services and factory workers and bus drivers can’t work at home.

The challenge for many employers is that they feel they lose some control of their employees and their productivity and results. That is why, at this point in the evolution of the work-at-home trend, it’s not just the kinds of jobs that can be done at home, but the kind of employee who can work successfully at home. They must obviously be those employees that don’t require much supervision, who take their employee responsibilities seriously and can quickly prove that their productivity and results don’t suffer by working at home.

In preparing for this growing trend, employers can help their companies by beginning to craft a work-at-home policy. This would first require an assessment of the company’s labor force to determine if a work-at-home policy is even viable. The next step is writing a draft of an agreement document between employer and employee with all the details: schedule, deadlines, results benchmarks, daily communication, protection of sensitive company documents and information, etc. Finally, an employer would want to identify at least one employee who could be the “guinea pig” to experiment with the policy. All of this could be contained in a report to the employer for his or her consideration.

It’s important to remember that a work-at-home policy be presented to employees as a work alternative, not part of their benefits package.

Ultimately, a work-at-home policy will be successful when employers and employees change their mindsets about the work environment and the relationship of employer and employee, much of which still remains from the 19th and 20th centuries.

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