Set Up Telecommuting in 2021 (Policy and Tools)

Telecommuting enables the workplace to improve the management of their team. Many employees now have a long-term expectation that telecommuting policies will be offered by employers. This will become a critical component of ensuring employee retention and reduced employee turnaround.

Written By:
Bryan Stouffer
Publish Date:
December 4, 2020
Man with grey beard, sunglasses and tattoos working via video chat walking down the street.
Man with grey beard, sunglasses and tattoos working via video chat walking down the street.

If you are wondering How do I implement a telecommuting policy, let's first confirm the top three reasons Why you want to start telecommuting:

  1. Workplace safety
  2. Improved management
  3. Employee retention (expectations)

Why should I allow telecommuting in my business? Many preoccupied businesses may ask "should I allow telecommuting in my business?" The primary reason people are looking into telecommuting policies today centers around workplace safety and concerns resulting from the recent pandemic. Many companies who have temporarily implemented a telecommuting policy have found that it forced them to improve how they measure and manage their team.

Telecommuting enables the workplace to improve the management of their team. Many employees now have a long-term expectation that telecommuting policies will be offered by employers. This will become a critical component of ensuring employee retention and reduced employee turnaround.

How do I implement a telecommuting policy?

To implement a clear telecommuting policy where your employees can effectively work from home, you must:

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Ensure that remote critical business operations continue
  3. Implement collaboration technology
  4. Track and Manage Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

The first step is to set clear expectations with your employees. They need to know that while working remotely. They must be available, and are expected to provide quick responses to their team members. A telecommuting policy is a privilege that will need to be evaluated on a routine basis. Businesses want to provide these remote employee policies to ensure there is no COVID-19 related discrimination. The employee must hold up their end by making sure that they can maintain standardized employee work performance metrics. Discrimination rules do not apply if the employee fails to meet basic metrics for expected business operations.

The second component of implementing a telecommuting policy is to identify critical business operations and ensure that you have enabled. Your team in a remote capacity to perform these critical business operations. That can be done by enabling the technology that allows these critical operations to be performed.

Enforcing a telecommuting policy requires that you assess and identify key performance indicators. These are clear targets that you can measure and manage, whether the critical business operations remain operational as expected.

What is needed to telecommute?

Even if you work with a local IT solutions provider, you should know the technologies required to enable telecommuting in your workspace. This combination is key to answering how do I implement a telecommuting policy. This includes solutions for file access, phone systems, team communication, customer communication, and security.

VPN to Network File Shares vs. File Sync (Dropbox or OneDrive)

Employee need to access to company files and file systems. If your business currently has network file shares, you will need to enable a VPN encrypted tunnel to access these resources remotely. To secure a home connection to your office file server, you will need to connect a secured Virtual Private Network (VPN). This is an encrypted tunnel into your business network. This can be expensive and difficult to install. Many businesses are looking to modern cloud file sync solutions such as Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. These are common alternatives to network folders over VPN access. Even though Dropbox is more robust, many businesses are turning to OneDrive because it's included with the Office 365 suite. File syncing works by making files virtually available on your hard drive versus accessing a remote network drive. When you double-click to open the file, it will be securely downloaded from Dropbox or OneDrive onto your computer and opened locally. As an employee changes a file, those changes get synchronized with the other team members connected to Dropbox or OneDrive. The advantage to these cloud file sync solutions is less IT infrastructure, Version History, Auditability and offline access.

VOIP (Missed Calls to Email Notification)

For phone calls and phone answering, you will need a telephone system that works over the internet. This will resolve limitations of a physical phone line that's wired throughout your office. These phone systems are known as Voice Over IP (VOIP) telephony systems. Enabling virtual phones is essential for most business who ask "how do I implement a telecommuting policy".

RingCentral and can work on an Ethernet connected phone at somebody's house or can be accessed through an app installed on a phone. If you allow business applications on employee phones, see how to implement a BYOD policy. An advantage to a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone system is the ability to email a notification for any missed inbound phone call. You can measure and report missed call email notifications to better measure and manage the quality control of your business's customer service responses.

Password Management

Another important aspect to securely enabling people to telecommute and work from home is to eliminate weak or shared passwords. Enforcing strong password policies could cause a high burden on your IT department who will need to constantly be resetting forgotten passwords. 1Password can allow your IT department to create password vaults for employee accounts where the passwords can be scrambled as strong passwords. These logins can then be safely shared with your employees. When a user logs into their laptop, it unlocks a master key chain of passwords. All of this can be managed by your IT department and locked down to have specific access and auditability for all passwords. Password management allows you to remotely and rapidly remove an employee's access from critical systems.

DriveStrike and MDM

In the event of a security risk related to personnel, you will need to secure the physical device used at home remotely. To do this you will need to encrypt and remotely control the device. This way you can ensure that the disk is encrypted, safe, and remotely erasable. This can be critical if a phone or laptop is lost or stolen or a complication arises with the employee who controls the device. An example of this solution for Windows based devices would be DriveStrike. DriveStrike is very simple to implement and cost effective. For Apple devices or mobile devices, a mobile device management (MDM) solution will have to necessary. The specific implementation will depend on the type of phones that your office uses. This is a primary reason why a business should either choose Android or iOS, not both. MDM solutions will allow you to automatically install apps, set update policies, and security policies on the devices themselves, such as disallowing USB access.

Team Collaboration (MS Office)

Next is making sure that your team can collaborate with each other virtually while telecommuting. When solving the problem of "how do I implement a telecommuting policy", you must fundamentally evaluate how your employees communicate with each other. A chat based application designed for remote team collaboration would be Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Slack. In addition to chat capability, these applications also enable screen sharing, video calls in groups, audio calls and file sharing. This greatly enables teams to work remotely from one another.

Client File Portal to Email Notification

On the client-facing side, there are client portal applications to allow your team secure access to client file portals. These client portals store files and information for your customers. A good portal should safely and securely grant your customers access to their files. This fixes issues emailing large attachments by allowing customers to easily upload large files to your team. Zapa Client Portals enable email notifications so you are alerted any time a customer uploads a new file to their client portal.

Virtual Fax to Email Notification

For the more antiquated clients and organizations, the ability to receive fax messages is mission critical to this day. Modern businesses want to be virtual and promote telecommuting but many people feel more comfortable faxing the documents to your business. A virtual Fax Service like MyFax will allow your business to receive fax messages virtually and convert the contents to a PDF. You can set MyFax to send your business an email notification when a new fax messages has been received. These older technologies are overlooked when answering questions like "how do I implement a telecommuting policy".

Help Desk System, CRM or Email Reporting

Customer emails can come from the office email address, Phone Voicemail, Client Portal, or Virtual Fax. To process these messages you will want a centralized solution. This should include the ability to report on email metrics. By implementing a help desk system or CRM, you allow your entire team to access emails as tickets. These tickets can then be categorized and report on. These reports include the average time to respond to a customer or the average time a particular team took to resolve an issue. This type of measurement and management is essential to know that critical business functions are operating as expected in a remote workforce. Salesforce and FreshDesk are CRMs and Help Desk Systems respectively.

Time Tracking

Lastly, a time tracking system can report on how employees are spending their time. It is easy to get distracted while working from home. The simple act of recording your time can introduce a level of accountability and awareness of how each team member is prioritizing their time. A good example of an online time tracking system would be Harvest Time Tracker.

How do you create an effective telecommuting program?

In order to understand how we can create an effective telecommuting policy, we must first understand the main components. The key elements to an effective telecommuting program are:

  1. Provisional (privilege vs. right)
  2. Accountabilty (measure performance)
  3. Flexible (work remotely as needed)

Any effective telecommuting program must first be provisional. The policy offered to an employee on the condition that they maintain an acceptable level of performance while working remotely. Their performance should be reviewed on a quarterly basis to make sure that it is a policy that can continue sustainably for the business.

Addressing the question of "how do I implement a telecommuting policy" there must be a layer of accountability. It might be difficult and subjective to measure the accountability of your team without clearly defined key performance indicators. These should be defined for each type of job in your organization. This is important in terms of maintaining your critical business operation.

Lastly, an effective telecommuting program should be flexible. For example, you may have people who come into your office. But if they feel or fear that they may be sick, your telecommuting policy should kick in. This allows your employee the option of temporarily working from home.

Your telecommuting policy doesn't have to be all or nothing. It can just simply enabled temporarily when employees have concerns or think that there's a slight possibility that they could be sick. If a team member may have been exposed to somebody with an infectious disease like COVID-19, you should have the ability to work remotely. This can help prevent putting the rest of your workforce at risk.

What equipment is needed to work remotely?

There is essential physical equipment that you will need to provide to your employees. For your team to telecommute, they will need the following essential home office equipment:

  1. Laptop
  2. VOIP desk phone or Cell Phone App
  3. Extra keyboard, mouse, and Monitors (pluggable)
  4. Strong Internet Connection
  5. Home Internet Security Audit

The most important piece of equipment is a laptop computer. Even with tons of great mobile apps, most businesses still require the full functionality of a Windows or macOS laptop. Employees should also be provided an extra keyboard, a mouse, and external monitors. To easily connect these devices or to use multiple monitors, look into USB docking stations, such as Pluggable.

Employees that need to communicate on the phone will either need a voice over IP desk phone or a mobile phone. For mobile, install a VOIP phone app like RingCentral to connect and communicate with your customers through your main phone line and number.

All this will require a strong internet connection, particularly if you're using a lot of video chat and phone calls. A reliable internet connection will be essential for your team to function effectively. You can test internet speeds at home with sites like Ookla.

Lastly, you will want to have a Home Internet Security Audit Checklist. Checking home internet security includes things like confirming that your employee's home Wi-Fi SSID is not broadcasted. Also requiring a sufficient level of password encryption to connect business equipment to their home Wi-Fi network.

How do you implement work from home policy?

Talk to Employees

Start by simply talking to your employees or team and get a sense of how they perceive the option of telecommuting. Do they see working remotely as a burden? Are there concerns about how to accomplish their work on time? Do they see telecommuting as a personal benefit? Determine the best way to communicate the policy changes based on these answers. Start by using policy templates from sources such as SHRM.

Announce Policy and Get Feedback

Schedule a policy announcement meeting with your team and communicate that policy with your team in multiple ways. Communicating the policy with your team verbally, visually with a printed guideline, and by emailing a copy to your entire team. This is to make sure that they have it accessible in the future. Once your team has reviewed the work from home policy, schedule a time for a one-on-one meeting with your team leads or managers. Use this time to get feedback on how that policy is perceived by your team. If any of your employees have specific concerns about specific policy details you can address them as appropriate.

Routine Check-in and Evaluation

Once that policy is finalized and employees are working from home. Schedule routine check-ins with your employees to understand if they're hitting their key performance indicators. Listen to how they feel and what challenges they're facing with their work from home situation. Have they found new obstacles that complicate their ability to perform critical business functions? Are they having difficulty getting a hold of specific team members or management?

Lastly, perform a routine quarterly evaluation to let your team know that they must continue to hit standard expectations. These should be clearly defined for each job type and reviewed in order for them to continue working from home.

Bryan Stouffer is a software architect who has spent his career in the Healthcare and Legal field. His passion for software comes from his desire to see professionals accelerated by computers, not hindered.