Designing a Long-term Telework Strategy

Learn essential considerations for designing and implementing a thriving virtual work program, with tips from leading employers.

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Remote work is here to stay. Before the pandemic, telework was a growing trend across the globe, and then COVID-19 turned it into a business continuity imperative. Many large employers are asking themselves what needs to be done to transition from emergency work from home, amplified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to a formal, strong telework program.

Get Clear on Terminology

Choosing the right name for a company program is not an easy task. Across companies and the HR world, various terms are used to describe working outside of the workplace. Adding to the confusion, sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, and other times, they have distinctly different meanings. When choosing a name, employers should become familiar with current terms and their common meanings, consider what’s the right fit for their culture and clearly define the terminology they’ll be using internally. If different policies and/or benefits apply to employees who work outside of the office full-time versus those who come into the workplace occasionally, then an employer will want to give those employee groups distinct names. Remote work, telework, work from home and mobile work are common terms in today’s lexicon. Below are sample definitions, as language will vary by company.

Some countries may have their own terminology. For example, in Italy working outside the office is often referred to as “smart working”.

Remote Work

Employees work from anywhere and are not expected to come into the workplace; employees often do not live near where the business is located.

Telework

Employees work outside of the office but are required to do some on-site work, often with an agreed-upon schedule (e.g., 3 telework days and 2 office days per week); generally, employees live in same region as a company worksite. Although common, the term may be seen as antiquated, since it’s “work” via a “telephone modem.”

Work from Home

Another common phrase for working outside of the office but may not be accurate in describing where people are working.

Mobile Home

Employees typically work outside of the office and move between different places during the day; often involves travel from one geographic location to another.

Other terms used to describe working outside of the workplace include:

  • Agile work;
  • Deskless work;
  • Digital nomad
  • Distributed work;
  • Flexiplace;
  • Telecommuting;
  • Virtual workers; and
  • Work from anywhere.

For the purposes of this article, terminology is used interchangeably.

Dell's Definiition

Dell uses the term “Remote Team Member”. Under their Connected Workplace program, remote working is defined as the option for team members to perform their work responsibility exclusively from home on an ongoing basis between 1 and 5 days a week. Learn more by reviewing Dell Technology’s Work from Home Policy.


Eligibility: Who Can Telework?

One of the first decisions to make is who will evaluate telework eligibility—managers, HR or both. Furthermore, company culture is likely to dictate what’s right for the organization. When an employer first establishes a virtual work program, HR may want to determine if positions are eligible for work from home or not based on job classifications and descriptions to ensure fairness and transparency, but as a culture of flexibility is embraced across the business, responsibility can be shifted to managers. Manager discretion empowers leaders to use insights that only they have to meet business goals and team needs while reducing administrative tasks for the HR team.

Some employers may choose to adopt a hybrid model, where managers decide if employees can telework or not, but HR still plays a role by either designating telework-eligibility of positions upfront or reviewing telework denials for consistency.

Regardless of who makes the call, any requirements or criteria for remote work should align with your organization’s culture and goals of the telework program and be clearly communicated in a policy. A best practice is to base eligibility on the position and performance.

Learn More

Answering the following questions may help you arrive at a sound policy:

  • Can the duties be performed at an off-site location? Are tasks and processes well-defined?
  • Are there privacy concerns with the information or materials the employee needs to access remotely or take out of the workplace? Can those concerns be addressed through security protocols?
  • Will there be a customer impact?
  • Is the position highly dependent on interaction? If so, can that interaction take place virtually?

Remember that most jobs consist of a variety of tasks. In some cases, the entire job may not be suitable for telework; however, working out of the office may be feasible a few days or even a few hours a week.

  • Is the telework arrangement cost neutral (or positive) for the organization?
  • Does the employee have a satisfactory performance record? Are they able to work independently?
  • Does the employee have an appropriate, safe off-site location to work from? Do they have access to technology needed to work remotely successfully?

It is also important to take into consideration if your employees have the legal right to request flexibility. For example, since 2003, working parents in the UK have been entitled to request flexibility for childcare reasons. Now, employers there are legally obliged to consider each flexible working request in a “reasonable manner.” 

When implementing teleworking for your global workforce, consider the country’s internet infrastructure and how it can keep up with spikes in traffic, especially with the use of high-bandwidth applications. For example, Mexico and Brazil are more internet resilient than Indonesia or India.

Even if an employee is deemed eligible to telework, it’s not right for everyone. Individuals should consider how comfortable they are teleworking and if they’ll miss the social interaction when working outside the office. If flexing where an employee works isn’t the right fit, employers may consider other flexibilities, like compressed workweeks, flexible hours or shift-swapping.

Employer Tip

Make decisions related to flexible work arrangements business-based and reason blind. While discussions of reasons for the request may naturally occur, the conversation focuses on results, not personal needs.


Safety, Ergonomics and Equipment

Remote work eliminates uniform working environments, requiring employers to support and ensure home office safety and security. A suggested practice is to require a discussion and a signed agreement between managers and teleworking employees. This agreement should address safety, privacy and security, as well as any company-specific requirements to telework.

Safety Topics

  • Ergonomically sound chair
  • Ergonomically sound desk
  • Awareness and elimination of electrical and fire hazards
  • Proper Lighting
  • Proper Storage

Security Topics

  • The prohibition of the use of a personal hotspot
  • Company-specific VPN
  • Personal headsets
  • Regular password maintenance
  • Country-specific data transfer and privacy laws

Once employees acknowledge what is expected of their remote workstation, employers should establish expectations for managers to follow up periodically. Keep in mind that any accident or injury that occurs while the employee is working at their remote workstation may be eligible for workers’ compensation within the U.S. and, if the employee is a U.S. hire, abroad. And while legislation varies by country, in many locations, the law doesn’t differentiate between an accident occurring at a home office and an accident occurring at an office building.  Employers should review with their labor counsel any potential implications for each country in which they have employees. On an individual level, it is prudent to talk to teleworking employees about their home work environment and determine how compliance with safety, privacy and security will be monitored. 

Employers must research and understand the relationship between telework, workers’ compensation and other legal obligations wherever their employees are located. In many countries outside the United States, such as those in the European Union, China, Bahrain and Mexico, employment agreements are often required to state the location of work.  According to a SHRM article on global telecommuting, it is important that the employment contract reflects their “home” as place of work, as well as any other accommodations particular to their telecommuting arrangement. Based on what countries employees are working from, employers need to ensure that the proper legal entity structure exists so that permanent establishment issues are not triggered. Additional required benefits also vary by country; for example, employers in Brazil must provide employees with meal vouchers even when they work from home.


Many employers provide remote workers with standard equipment required for the job, such as a laptop, headset and mouse. What’s more, leading employers often go beyond the basics and provide stipends or dedicated funds for additional telework equipment. If you provide employees with funding for their home office, clearly communicate what it can and can’t be used for and whether it is a one-time or recurring stipend. Also, consider offering high-quality, cost-efficient recommendations, such as five ergonomic chairs or three home printers for employees to choose from.

Dell's Home Office Stipends

In addition to basic IT equipment, Dell provides their employees with a stipend based on location (where legally applicable) to establish a remote workstation. To help employees develop the most efficient and safe workspace possible, Dell provides employees with recommendations on equipment. Learn more by reviewing Dell Technology’s Work from Home Policy.


Performance and Productivity

Telework can be notably more efficient than in-office work when the right expectations, norms and communication practices are implemented. Simply put, remote work is most conducive to a results-oriented performance management system that focuses on what employees produce. This, however, may incur challenges in some cultures such as Japan, where work culture demands constant face-to-face interaction, partly to show respect but also because employees are judged by how many hours they put in at the office (and not their output). While an organization’s HR team is responsible for designing the right system and processes, the daily responsibility of performance management lands with managers.

According to a commonly cited study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, working from home increases productivity and decreases attrition. This work- from- home experiment was conducted at a 16,000-employee, NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency. Home working led to a 13% performance increase, attributed to fewer breaks and sick days and a quieter, more convenient working environment. Additionally, home workers reported improved work satisfaction and their attrition decreased by 50%.


Here are some recommended practices for managing individual and team performance that apply both to telework and in-office work:

  • Establish team and individual goals, monitor performance, alleviate obstacles and hold employees accountable through short- and long-term milestones.
  • Get employee feedback and ideas on what’s working and what’s not through regular check-ins, surveys and group conversations; monitor potential burnout; and ensure that employees work well under remote work conditions.
  • Provide employees with technology to enhance the telework experience (messaging apps, shared calendars, project management tools, etc.) and ensure that they know how to use them effectively.
  • Encourage colleagues to understand and be respectful of different time zones and schedules within their team and for clients, set fair meeting times, and if needed, try rotating meeting times.
  • Rethink virtual meetings—and when appropriate--make them short and concise to maximize engagement.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, schedules should be developed collaboratively between teleworkers, supervisors and coworkers, with priority given to achieving work goals and, if needed, office coverage.

  • Use video conference, when available and allowed (some companies disable laptop cameras due to security reasons), for a more personal interaction.
  • Encourage dedicated workspaces.
  • Facilitate team- building activities to inspire camaraderie and develop co-worker relations, trust and overall comfort.
  • Encourage well-being breaks, as these can go neglected when employees are working independently.

In 2019, Allison Baum, a principal investor and future of work enthusiast, introduced the idea of a “flipped workplace,” in which collaborative work is completed in the office, while individual concentrative work is completed remotely. According to Baum, this approach “is better for both employers and employees because it optimizes for productivity, not presence.” The balance of work goals and ability to accommodate the different styles and needs of individual employees results in cohesion, momentum and trust. Adopting this model requires a cultural shift and clear workplace protocols, and it may not be the right fit for companies with employees spread across various locations. View the Business Group’s Flipped Workplace Mind Stretch webinar with Allison Baum to learn more.


Training and Career Development

While most large employers don’t require telework training, it can help set teams and individuals up for success. Your Learning and Development team is likely an essential partner in integrating trainings into current platforms and creating a 21st century training experience with bite-sized courses, scenario simulations, videos, engaging visual design and more. Additionally, employers should have resources, toolkits and best practices readily available for leaders and employees.

Below are suggested training topics for managers and employees.

Manager Training Topics

  • Leading at a distance, results-oriented performance management
  • Leading virtual meetings
  • Effective communication and collaboration
  • Building trust and empathy
  • Practices that promote healthy work/life integration and well-being, including physical, emotional and financial health, social connectedness and job satisfaction
  • Any internal/required procedures or practices related to telework

Employee Training Topics

  • Ergonomics and setting up a remote office (from proper lighting to plants)
  • Effective communication and collaboration
  • Best practices for using collaboration tools and technology, such as video conferencing, messaging apps, etc.
  • Communication and meeting etiquette (what’s appropriate for IM, how to use video conferencing, etc.)
  • Keeping leaders informed on work performance
  • Taking initiative and time management
  • Practices that promote healthy work/life integration and well-being, including physical, emotional and financial health, social connectedness and job satisfaction

Employers developing trainings and tips internally may find the recommended employer and employee practices in our Telework and Well-being Integration guide helpful.

Beyond training on working remotely successfully, it is critical for employers to provide career development to all employees, including helping workers build and maintain their professional circles through formal and informal networking opportunities and mentorship programs. Prior to COVID-19, American Express hosted an annual learning and development week for virtual colleagues that focused on leadership skills. Now, American Express is providing resources and trainings to better equip colleagues to lead virtual teams with empathy and learn new ways to deliver their best while working from home.

Engagement and understanding
improved when we transitioned from a 45-minute training to a website upgrade that included a readiness checklist, best practices, and an easy-to-follow get started guide.


Elysa Jacob Cruse, Manager, Health Improvement Programs, Workplace Agility Program Lead, Pitney Bowes

Internal Partnerships and Cross-functional Collaboration

Successful telework programs require strategic alignment across HR teams and other business units. Each must embrace the company’s telework goals and work together to improve the employee experience and productivity. When establishing or enhancing your company’s telework approach, consider how you may collaborate with:

  • Senior leaders
  • HR Teams (or individuals responsible for the following):
    • Learning and Development;
    • Performance Management;
    • Legal;
    • Well-being;
    • Work/life (particularly flexible schedules);
    • Occupational Health and Safety;
    • Diversity and Inclusion;
    • Accommodations;
    • Workers’ Compensation;
    • Compensation (particularly if you enact locality pay for remote workers); and
    • Labor and Employee Relations.
  • IT
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Emergency and Disaster Preparedness
  • Employee Resource Groups/Colleague Networks
  • Global/regional/ country teams

More Topics

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Get Clear on Terminology
  2. Eligibility: Who Can Telework?
  3. Safety, Ergonomics and Equipment
  4. Performance and Productivity
  5. Training and Career Development
  6. Internal Partnerships and Cross-functional Collaboration