The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston values its faculty and staff and supports each department's managerial decision to offer telecommuting options for any of its employees provided the job is appropriate for telecommuting and the missions of the department and University are not compromised and fully met. The Telecommuting Guide should assist UTHSC-H supervisors and employees appropriately and effectively utilize telecommuting and include a definition of telecommuting, potential advantages/disadvantages of telecommuting, and tips for evaluating/implementing telecommuting.
Definition of Telecommuting
Telecommuting is a work agreement between an employee and his/her supervisor that allows an employee to perform assigned duties at an alternative site (usually home) during some or all of his/her scheduled work hours. It is a managerial/supervisory option and not an employee benefit or right and must conform to all state laws and regulations regarding state employment.
Potential Advantages of Telecommuting
- May be a valuable employee recruitment tool
- May help retain valuable employees who need flexible work hours
- May enhance productivity by allowing better concentration, fewer interruptions, etc.
- Can spread work hours over a longer period during the day
- May allow more flexible use of equipment
- Can decrease costs for office space, equipment, parking, etc.
- Saves employees money (decreased costs for commuting, dress, etc.)
- May allow work to be done when inclement weather might otherwise interfere
- May enhance employee morale
Potential Disadvantages of Telecommuting
- May create unhappiness for employees unable to telecommute since not all jobs are appropriate for telecommuting
- Can pose supervisory challenges
- Can be expensive to set up alternative work site
- Can require changes in office schedules to accommodate telecommuters
- Without good supervision and good selection of telecommuters, can compromise job productivity and effectiveness
- Can create sense of isolation for telecommuter, especially if he/she telecommutes many hours a week
Factors to Consider When Evaluating
Telecommuting as an Option
- Type of Job - Jobs that can be performed as well or better at an alternative site than at the primary office site are best suited for telecommuting. Jobs that require face-to-face contact or shift work (such as hospitals) are not appropriate for telecommuting.
- Potential Advantages/Disadvantages to the Department's/Unit's Operations - Telecommuting may result in advantages and/or disadvantages to a department's or unit's operations, and these should be assessed when telecommuting is considered.
- Supervisory Support/Flexibility Required - Although supervision for telecommuting does not differ greatly from supervision in the office, there are some needs for supervisor flexibility. Therefore, supervisors should consider if they are willing and/or able to provide the flexibility required to accommodate the needs of the telecommuter. Such changes might include phone supervision, more frequent performance reviews, on-site visits, etc.
- Financial Implications - Each department is financially responsible for obtaining maintaining, and protecting the equipment assigned to the telecommuter unless the employee chooses to use his/her own equipment, and departments should ensure they have any additional funding that may be required for implementing telecommuting. Departments may use equipment in their own inventory and they should complete a removal of equipment form for equipment that is taken off campus. Capital Assets Management strongly recommends each piece of equipment, especially lap-tops, be insured against damage or theft (for information call Assets, (713) 500-4701). Please be aware that Information Technology does not support equipment located at non UTHSC-H facilities, and in most cases, does not provide equipment to be located at private homes.
- Off-Site Work Environment - Off-campus/alternative work sites should provide telecommuters an environment in which they can work effectively. This includes both the physical environment (see subsequent section on creating a safe/effective work site) and distractions that may occur. Telecommuting, for example, should not be considered a substitute for dependent child or elder care.
Requesting Telecommuting: Tips for
- Before approaching your supervisor, do your homework. Keep a log of what you do on your job for 2 weeks. Divide the tasks into 3 columns: work that can be done at the alternative work site (usually home), work that can only be done at the office, and work that could be done either on- or off-site. If the tasks in the 'at alternative work site' comes up short, you need to re-think telecommuting. If it is fairly long, you may have a good case for telecommuting.
- Consider your department's needs and concerns your supervisor might have about telecommuting. How is telecommuting going to make his/her job easier/better, meet the department's needs, enhance productivity, impact costs, etc.? These questions need to be answered before you approach your supervisor.
- Figure out in advance as many technical details as possible. What equipment would you need, what would it cost, is it compatible with your alternative work space?
- If you plan on using your own equipment, what expectations do you have from your supervisor regarding reimbursement for its use/repairs and for other costs relating to telecommuting?
- What type of schedule are you seeking? How will you arrange for supervision, what will be your "core hours" in the office? How will you work to stay "connected" with other team members at the office?
- What does your alternative office site look like in terms of safety and efficiency?
- If dependent care is needed, what plans do you have to ensure that telecommuting does not look like a substitute for child or elder care?
- If you have answered all of the above questions to your satisfaction, fill out a Proposal for Telecommuting (see sample) and request a meeting with your supervisor.
- If your request is denied, find out precisely what your supervisor's concerns are to see if you can do anything else to make telecommuting a reality. If the answer is still "No," remember that telecommuting is a supervisory option and not an employee benefit or right. You need to accept the answer as "No" or consider looking for another job that is more appropriate for telecommuting.
Selection of Telecommuters
Each department is responsible for making its own decisions regarding appropriate candidates for telecommuting. However, experiences of other organizations implementing telecommuting options suggest that the success of telecommuting may be enhanced when telecommuters meet the following criteria.
- Have been an employee for a minimum of six (6) months
- Have a demonstrated ability to work well with minimal supervision;
- Have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the job tasks and operations for which he or she is responsible;
- Have a history of reliable and responsible accomplishment of work duties
- Have demonstrated ability to establish priorities and manage his or her time.
- Indicates a desire to telecommute
- Has a safe/efficient alternative work site (see section on work site criteria)
- Where relevant, has a satisfactory plan for meeting dependent child or elder care needs
Guidelines for Implementing Telecommuting
- Routinely, telecommuting should encompass from one to three days out of the work week. Each telecommuter should have core office hours at his/her primary and alternate work sites so that others can know when/where to contact the telecommuter.
- A formal written proposal is recommended for any employee seeking permission to telecommute (see Appendix A. UTHSC-H Telecommuting Proposal). If approved, a formal written Telecommuting Agreement should be signed by the employee and supervisor and placed in the employee's file. See Appendix B. UTHSC-H Telecommuting Agreement.
Tips for Creating a Safe and Efficient
- Employees are subject to all policies of UTHSC-H, regardless of work location.
- It is important the telecommuter have a space away from the family (preferably a room with a door that can be shut and/or locked) since most alternative work sites are in the employee's home.
- The telecommuter has the responsibility of providing the supervisor with a description of his/her safe, efficient alternative work site.
- The telecommuter should maintain a designated workspace in a clean, professional, and safe condition at the alternate work location. A floor plan of the area showing furniture, equipment, and electrical outlets must be attached to the telecommuting agreement. The supervisor may visit the telecommuter’s work site for evaluation prior to final approval and may require that a photo of the workspace be attached to the agreement.
- There should be ample lightening to avoid eye strain and enough electrical outlets to accommodate the necessary equipment.
- The space should be large enough to accommodate necessary connections for electronic equipment and telephones, wires from computers, fax machines, etc. so that the worker can move freely without fear of tripping or falling.
- Desks and chairs should be an appropriate size and comfortable for working (e.g. sitting in a kitchen chair for several hours a day is not good for business productivity or employees' health/comfort). It is the employee’s responsibility to maintain a proper work environment insofar as dependent care arrangements.
- Telecommuting is not a substitute for dependent child or elder care.
- Arrangements should be made so that dependent care does not interfere with work, and personal disruptions such as non-business telephone calls and visitors are kept to a minimum.
- Children under the age of 13 must be under the care of an individual other than the employee while the employee is working at home. Unless otherwise approved, someone other than the telecommuting employee must care for other members of the household who need regular attention, or the employee must use sick leave or vacation as appropriate.
Work Assignments and Evaluations
- A telecommuting employee will meet with the supervisor to receive assignments and to review completed work; and will complete assigned work according to the standards of performance for their classification and according to procedures mutually agreed upon with the supervisor.
- The evaluation of the employee’s job performance will be based on established performance standards for the job classification.
- Satisfactory performance must be maintained in order to remain in the telecommuting program. Supervisors are encouraged to review telecommuting programs on a regular basis.
- On telecommuting days, an employee must be available to receive telephone calls during scheduled work hours. Telephone calls received at the remote workplace must be handled in a professional, businesslike manner.
- A telecommuter will be required to maintain accurate time accounting documentation to support and substantiate work hours and products, and will be required to submit routine time and status reports detailing hours worked and tasks performed or completed.
Time and Leave
- Salaries and benefits will not be affected by telecommuting.
- The amount of time an employee is expected to work will not change due to telecommuting; a full-time employee will be responsible for working 40 hours per workweek.
- A telecommuting non-exempt employee covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act will be compensated for overtime in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Under no circumstances may a non-exempt employee work in excess of 40 hours per workweek without advance approval of the employee’s supervisor.
- In accordance with established policies and procedures, a telecommuting employee must obtain supervisory approval before taking any type of leave.
- All time and leave records must be maintained by the department for a telecommuting employee as they are for on-site employees.
Worker's Compensation Benefit's
- The UTHSC-H retains the right to make pre-arranged on-site inspections of this work area during work hours. Workers’ Compensation benefits will apply to injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. A telecommuting employee who sustains a work-related injury must notify the supervisor immediately and complete all required documents regarding the injury.
- Workers' compensation applies to telecommuters if the injury/accident appears to be work related. If an injury/accident occurs outside the work site but in the home or during work hours while running non-work related errands, the accident/injury would appear unrelated to work and would not be covered by workers' compensation.
Equipment and Software
- If an employee uses his/her own equipment for telecommuting purposes, the employee and his/her supervisor should negotiate an agreement as to what, if any, costs for repairs, extra telephone lines, etc. will be reimbursed by the department.
- UTHSC-H will not be liable for damages to employee-owned equipment resulting from participation in the telecommuting program; nor responsible for operating costs, home maintenance, or any other incidental costs (e.g., utilities, basic telephone service, insurance) associated with the use of the employee’s residence for telecommuting, unless specifically provided otherwise in advance in writing by the head of the employee’s department.
- Telecommuters must agree to obey the rules of the State of Texas on using State of Texas equipment such as using the Personal Computer for business purposes only, holding confidential all work performed outside the office the same as if performed in the office, obeying licensing laws of software, and recognizing any/all work performed at an alternative work site as property of the University.
- Employees, faculty, staff, and students connecting to UTHSC-H network via digital subscriber line ( DSL) or cable modem may take advantage of the UTHSC-H virtual private network (VPN). Please contact your Local Area Network ( LAN) manager for more information on this service.
- Products or programs the employee develops while telecommuting for UTHSC-H remain the property of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
- Employees are required to follow all information security rules, copyright laws, and manufacturer’s licensing agreements of UTHSC-H. Software may not be duplicated except as allowed under law or licensing agreements.
Information Technology Support
- Technical Support for university applications is available through our helpdesk (713) 500-4848. Helpdesk hours are from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- If a problem arises relating to the telephone or Internet Service Provider, the employee will contact and obtain support from the service provider. Payment for repairs is the responsibility of the subscriber of the service.
- The employee is encouraged to use a surge protector with electronic equipment such as computers, printers and scanners. UTHSC-H is not responsible for repair of equipment that is not properly protected using a surge protector.
Managing Telecommuters: Tips for Supervisors
- Managing telecommuters is not unlike managing employees on site. It requires management skills such as goal setting, assessing progress, giving regular feedback, and managing based on outcomes. Some managers prefer dividing objectives into smaller parts and reviewing work more frequently - at least initially - to ensure the telecommuter is on track.
- Focus on the quality of work, not necessarily quantity of time spent off-site.
- Identify and discuss problem areas as soon as possible and develop a plan of action to avoid bigger problems down the road.
- Be flexible enough to make changes when and where necessary.
- Include telecommuters in all appropriate office meetings, both official and social, to prevent telecommuters from feeling isolated from the office team.
- Review sections on selecting telecommuters and creating a safe/efficient work site in the Telecommuting Guide to assist in managing telecommuters in your area.
- Remember that use of telecommuting is first and foremost a supervisor's option and should be reviewed/approved with careful consideration of the missions of your department and the University.
- While telecommuting can sometimes look like a benefit only to employees, most studies show, based on benefits from such things as decreased employee turnover and increased employee productivity, a company can save several thousand dollars a year per telecommuter.
Supervisors should give telecommuters at least 24 hours notice if they plan to visit the alternate work site to check on University equipment, the work environment, etc.
Termination of Participation
- A supervisor has the right to terminate the telecommuting agreement at any time if it appears that telecommuting is no longer in the best interest of the department or the University. It is recommended that appropriate notice of at least one week be given unless circumstances prevent giving notice.
- Unless the supervisor has made telecommuting a requirement of the job, an employee has the right to terminate the telecommuting agreement if he/she feels the need to stop for work or personal reasons. It is recommended that appropriate notice of at least one week be given unless circumstances prevent giving notice.
- Telecommuters should be willing to be flexible about their schedules in instances where it might be necessary to work on site at an unscheduled time.
- Supervisors should ensure telecommuting does not have a negative impact on customer service, and, in fact, should consider ways telecommuting might enhance it.
- UTHSC-H will not be held responsible for costs, damages, or losses associated with the termination of the telecommuting agreement.
For more information or guidance about telecommuting,
contact the Work/Life Coordinator at 500-3013, or via email.