As a remote company, what’s your approach to home office tech and your team? Have you implemented or discussed a home office equipment policy or guidelines for these employees to follow? If you haven’t, you should.
Some organizations help workers with costs or reimbursement for home office equipment, and others don’t. But all companies who employ remote workers should help provide, at minimum, a home office equipment guide to help remote workers accumulate the tools to succeed on the job while working remotely, says Rachel Hastings, vice president of WFC Resources, a company that helps employers create a workplace that is both supportive and effective.
Determining Your Home Office Tech Responsibilities
There are two major areas of focus when identifying what home office equipment the company will or won’t provide or reimburse employees for, says Hastings. “One is how it relates to health and safety, and what is required by OSHA, and the other is what the organizational budget will stretch to, and is reasonable, given the percentage of employees who work from home.”
Employers who allow telecommuting as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act may be required to provide some equipment for an employee’s home office, but there are no clear-cut rules regarding what an employer must provide. Employers are recommended to provide telecommuting workers with equipment that they need to do their jobs efficiently and confidentially. After that, it’s up to the employer to decide whether to provide furnishings that accommodate a worker’s disability.
“In both cases, just as employers will equip field workers with phones and laptops, and even vehicles in order to carry out their work, it stands to reason that if telework is being used as a strategy to get work done more effectively, then the organization would want to pitch in to some degree,” says Hastings.
Some organizations are very clear about the list of equipment they will provide and budget accordingly. Many others wait for the workforce to request items and consider each item on its merits.
Let’s look at some home office tech items most commonly to least commonly provided by employers, and the rationale for doing so, according to Hastings:
Laptop or MacBook, Desktop PC or Mac
These are the most commonly provided items, with laptops/MacBooks more popular than clunky desktop computers that can’t be taken offsite or into the office if needed.
“In-office workers who travel are usually provided with laptops, so it stands to reason an organization would do the same for remote workers,” says Hastings.
An exception might be made if the worker only teleworks due to adverse weather or a personal appointment (waiting for a plumber, for example). For a company whose budget can stretch, they would do well to stretch it to this item. For much smaller companies, or those whose budget is very tight, employees who want to telework should not push for equipment if it means the arrangement will not go ahead. Implementing an equipment allowance would be a good place to start.
Printers, Scanners, Copiers, or Multiple Monitors
These are not usually supplied as standard even by the bigger players, unless you are 100 percent home based, so there needs to be a good argument for why the job requires this kind of hardware. Designers, programmers, and those switching between multiple programs in the course of their work have a higher chance of being provided, or requesting, more than one monitor. The relatively low price of printers/copiers/scanners means that administrative tasks can be done at home, as long as bulk copies are not required, thereby allowing clerical staff to telework on occasion.
Desks, Chairs, or File Cabinets
It’s unusual for companies to provide special office furniture, even for those who work predominantly from home, but employees are more likely to be supplied with an ergonomic chair upon request, thanks to OSHA guidelines. In addition, some employees handling highly sensitive documents are given lockable file boxes or allowances for such items.
Telephone, Broadband, and VPNs
A good rule of thumb is that if you require a phone number to be published, say, on a website, or if you need to transfer a heavy volume of calls seamlessly from the office, require workers to be on call, or you routinely supply phones to field-workers, then you would pay for a work phone to be provided to frequent teleworkers, either in the form of a separate landline or a cell phone.
Other options include providing a Jabra headset (around $250) where the employee can field calls through their computer, so the same office number can be used when working at home. In the case where companies are basing call centers out of worker’s homes, they usually provide business lines and telephones or mobile phones for that purpose.
Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can also allow staff to connect to your company network from home, so companies often foot the bill for this and have it set up as part of their internal IT system. It’s less common for organizations to pay for broadband, since it’s very unusual for workers not to have high speed Internet for their own personal use. However, some companies choose to reimburse employees for the cost of Internet as a perk for remote workers.
Most organizations understand that having employees set up to work from home, accessing the network, installing work-based software on laptops or home PCs, and so forth, carries a likelihood of tech support being required. The organization is not required to by law, but it’s not hard to see a case for “best interests” in doing so.
Additionally, most tech support can be done remotely, and therefore does not create an unusual burden of cost for the employer in sending tech staff to teleworkers’ homes. Most remote employees can also simply call company IT support for technical issues related to company systems. But costs may occur for outside support (problems with “home” Internet connection where a tech has to come out and fix or provide service). Many employers choose not to pay for these costs, as issues are not always related to work, even though home Internet is needed to do the job.
“The truth is, that while telework is still seen by many organizations as a perk or benefit rather than a strategic necessity, employers can bank on their workers doing and supplying whatever they can to make an arrangement work,” says Hastings. “However, to make telework as effective as possible, companies should allow individual business units to be part of the dialogue when creating policies and guidelines around equipment budgets, to gather input and insight from the remote worker.”