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Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: All other departments at my work have a work-from-home policy except for my department. Is it common for departments in one company to have different policies? How can I get the telecommuting policy changed for my department? — Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Telecommuting is a perk that employers may offer or not. Even when it is offered, an employer can decide to provide it to some people and not to others. So, at the outset, it’s important to realize you can’t demand telecommuting privileges.
There are generally two reasons why employers don’t offer telecommuting options or offer them only to certain employees.
First, some employers don’t offer it because they want their employees to be in the office to build organizational culture and a sense of esprit de corps. Some studies show that telecommuters are less connected to the organization and, therefore, are more likely to be recruited away.
Secondly, others recognize that, despite technological advances, there are still many jobs that require humans to be physically present at work. So it is common for a workplace that has a variety of jobs to limit telecommuting to employees whose work is information- or knowledge-based and does not require the employee to be physically present.
For example, an employee who works in a shipping department must be able to handle physical products, place the products in boxes and move the boxes to specific areas in a warehouse or load the boxes directly onto a truck. If your job involves something similar or you produce a certain item by using a specific piece of equipment, your employer might not be able to offer you an option to telecommute.
Employers also take into consideration the management of people and projects. Supply-chain management, for example, involves supervision of the production process, which includes manufacturing of products, shipment and distribution. Managers may need to have employees present at the workplace, not only to perform the work but also to be effectively supervised. So, employees who are part of the chain likely will be unable to work from home.
If working virtually – often called telecommuting or working remotely – isn’t possible, other options may be available. For example, if an employer has multiple locations, such as small distribution centers, an alternative might be to allow an employee to work closer to home.
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Or, a flexible schedule or compressed workweek might be an alternative. Some employers provide access to another flexible work arrangement when telework is not possible.
If you believe your work can be done virtually and you want to ask for a change in policy, write a proposal to your HR department. In your request:
- Provide specific examples of work tasks that you can perform at home. If some tasks must be performed at the worksite, a proposal that allows for telecommuting part of the week might be considered.
- Determine if your job can be performed at home full time. If it can, explain to HR why that is and be clear about what you are asking.
- Explain how telecommuting would benefit the company. Would it save workspace for other employees? Would there be a cost savings?
- Describe work-from-home options that other companies have used for people in jobs like yours, particularly if you anticipate pushback.
- Consider the concept of supervision in your proposal and identify how that can be done effectively while telecommuting.
Doing this upfront work is key. But also prepare yourself to compromise if your request is not fully embraced.
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Many employers have become more flexible about when and where employees work. In fact, more than two-thirds of employers offer some type of telecommuting, and the percentage is increasing. The ability to work virtually can lead to higher productivity, improved customer service, reduced absenteeism, lower costs and reduced stress levels.
With advanced technology, it has become easier and more convenient than ever for employees to work from home or on the road. I know firsthand that work involving writing, researching and communicating, for example, can be done from almost any location.
I realize it might be frustrating to see other employees work from home when you cannot. If you are denied telecommuting privileges, politely ask HR or your department head for an explanation. Seeing it from their point of view will (most likely) help you realize there’s a sound reason for why you are being treated differently.
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