Consumer and business technologies have collided. With communication and technological barriers disintegrating, where an employee performs his or her duties is becoming less of a factor in how he or she does the work. A greater number of companies are shifting toward telecommuting options for their workforce as technology advances to allow many employees to perform their duties from virtually any location.
According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of people who work at home varies industry to industry (it's often not possible to do manufacturing or some service-oriented jobs remotely). That being said, many sectors are incorporating the work-at-home option into their employees' schedules, with 14 percent of full-time employees reporting that they usually work at home. Among part-time employees - those working less than 30 hours a week - the proportion of telecommuters jumps to 30 percent.
Benefits for employees and employers alike
For employees, being able to redirect the time (and money) spent on the daily commute may be one of the greatest benefits of working at home. Telecommuting may also offer greater flexibility in terms of when and where they work.
Meanwhile, companies benefit from reduced energy and office space expenses. There may also be a drop-off in relocation costs, a rise in employee retention and an increased ability to accommodate employees with disabilities. For environmentally minded organizations, they may enjoy a smaller carbon footprint, since employees who no longer drive to work consume less energy and produce fewer carbon emissions.
Companies that offer their employees the option to work remotely or on a flexible schedule are gaining recognition for the perk. Recently, the Globe and Mail newspaper highlighted "family-friendly employers" that, in addition to providing top-up payments for mothers and fathers, health benefit plans and other bonuses, offer the option of compressed workweeks, flexible hours and telecommuting.
Drawbacks and risks of telecommuting
While there are clear perks to telecommuting, it may also have some negative implications. Some telecommuters report that their work-life balance has actually become skewed by telecommuting, because they feel as if they can't leave work at the office, since their workplace is also their home. Employers note that certain team members do not have a personality suited to working at home, as their productivity drops or they are unhappy with telecommuting.
Other liabilities can also arise with a telecommuting arrangement. HUB International has a few tips for employers on how to minimize the risk of this growing practice:
Employers may be liable for auto exposure
Companies are not responsible for workers during their daily commute to and from the office. However, if a telecommuting employee makes a trip to the bank or runs another work-related errand, that time may constitute business travel. As such, it's wise to ensure that any employees - whether based in the office or in their own homes - who are traveling for business purposes are covered under your organization's commercial auto insurance.
Is equipment in the employee's home covered?
Supplying the equipment and technology that employees use when they work at home enables the organization to control how those tools and technologies are used, which frees the firm from liability should the employee's personal equipment be damaged. Consult with the company IT department to make sure the employee has a secure connection to the corporate network and that any computers or other devices are equipped with security software to protect digital assets. Also, be sure to establish a policy (and train your employees on the rules) that specifies how workers can distribute and use sensitive company and customer information.
Workers' Compensation extends to the home
If an employee is injured at home performing a work-related task during set business hours, your firm will be held liable for Workers' Compensation payments. Alert managers to inform their teams that work injuries at home will be processed in the same way as those that occur on a worksite.
If your company is considering telecommuting or already has transitioned some of its employees to the arrangement, be sure to talk to your HUB consultant to ensure the staff is adequately covered and your organization is insulated from risk. There are a host of options available to businesses, so determine what your needs are and seek out a plan that will limit the amount of exposure you take on when adopting telecommuting.