This actually makes sense, because often telecommuting starts informally. Someone asks if he or she can work from home for a period of time, a manager says yes, and nothing is ever formalized. Then everybody else sees the first person working from home and other people start asking and getting approvals.
This is all fine and good until a problem happens and you don't have a policy in place. Sure, the best thing is if you have only responsible employees who are completely trustworthy, but that doesn't always happen. You'll end up with someone who says, "You didn't say I couldn't homeschool my children during the workday!"
So, you need a policy. There isn't a perfect policy for every business, of course. You have different needs and different clients, but here are five things you need to consider.
While you can and should certainly carve out an exception for a sick child, you need a policy that states that all children are either off-site in daycare or school, or have an onsite caregiver--be it your spouse or a babysitter. Some people think that an advantage of working from home is reduced daycare expenses, but you still need people to do their job and young children need someone watching them.
Of course, you need to be flexible--when a child is sick and can't be sent to school or daycare, of course, your employee can combine work and child care. When an employee's spouse who normally does the child care wants to run out while the baby is sleeping, that should be allowed as well. But there needs to be regular child care. Period.
This, of course, varies greatly from company to company and even job to job within the same company. Are your remote workers expected to start work precisely at 8:30, take a 30-minute lunch break at noon, and then work up until 5:00? Or is it OK if they start at 5:30 a.m., take a three-hour break from 11:00 to 2:00, and then come back to work? Or do you not care at all what hours they work as long as they get the work done?
Some companies institute core hours when everyone must be reachable and available but allow people to control the rest of their schedules. Some companies require that you be in communication at all times during the business day. Whatever works for your business is fine, but be clear. If you're unclear, people will do things you don't like, and then you have to talk with them about it and it can cause conflict and hurt feelings. Just start from the beginning saying, "This is how it is."
Does the company provide all the equipment? I'm not just talking about computers and smartphones. I'm talking desks, chairs, filing cabinets, headsets, pens, printers, and anything else your employee needs to do his or her job.
Lots of companies like telecommuting because they don't have to pay for office space for all employees, but you should consider whether or not you'll provide office equipment. And then, how do you ensure you get it back should the employee quit or be fired?
If you provide a printer, can the family use the printer or is it for work only? Can the employee use the company-provided computer to write her novel? This is always an issue with BYOD, but when an employee works at home, it can further blur the line between work equipment and personal equipment.
Space and location
Is it OK for your employee to work at the kitchen table? Does she need dedicated office space with a door that can be closed and locked? Does it need to be locked when the employee isn't there? If not, how do you ensure data confidentiality?
If the employee works exclusively from home, can she move? How far from the office? Must she stay in the same state? Have less than a two-hour commute to the office? Can she move to a different country and keep her job? If she moves away, who pays for trips to the office, including transportation and hotel costs, when there is a mandatory onsite meeting?
How are telecommuting arrangements made?
Is there a formal approval process? If so, who does the approval? Is temporary telecommuting allowed with the manager's approval while a permanent situation requires higher-level approval? Is full-time remote work allowed, or only part-time, for a few days a week? How many days per week is a "few"? Two? Three?
If someone telecommutes part-time, what happens to that person's office space when he or she is gone? Does it become shared space?
Obviously, some of these things are very job dependent, so you'll need to consider departmental discretion, but all need to be dealt with before an employee starts to work from home on a regular basis. Otherwise, things can fall apart.