Q: I’ve been a government contractor for 20 years. For the last nine years, I’ve had telecommuting privileges allowing me to work from home two days a week. On this contract, probably a quarter of us telecommute at least once a week. There’s starting to be grumbling in staff meetings among those who don’t have telecommuting privileges, and they are demanding it be offered or discontinued across the board. Managers get the deer-in-the-headlights look whenever the topic comes up. Should those of us who telecommute chime in during these protests with our medical, family and other personal justifications? Or should we say nothing and keep our fingers crossed?
A: I’m guessing your employer doesn’t have a clear policy on telecommuting — hence your managers’ stunned silence in response to the have-nots’ grumbling.
In recent years, some large private employers and several federal government agencies — most recently, the Social Security Administration — have been cutting back on or eliminating telework programs, citing concerns about productivity and creative collaboration.
But while banning telecommuting might seem the simplest solution for your employer, it would damage morale among one-fourth of your company’s workforce and, if telework is being granted to accommodate a worker’s disability or other medical need, it could create legal problems.
Also, employers seeking to attract and retain talent should be aware that job seekers increasingly consider telework flexibility a standard requirement — not just a nice-to-have.
But expanding telecommuting would probably generate some administrative headaches for your employer, especially when it comes to reporting client-billable hours and ensuring adequate on-site staffing and security. You have as much say in this debate as the grumblers, but trying to explain or justify individual arrangements tends to end in a heated debate over whose choices are more deserving: the parent with small children or the long-distance commuter who can’t afford to move closer.
Try advocating privately with colleagues and key players for a more productive dialogue: “Telecommuting definitely helps me perform my job better, and I can see why anyone would enjoy it. But I also understand concerns from the employer’s side. How can we start a discussion about ways to implement telework for more people, with reasonable and necessary guidelines?”