Teleworking Is A Privilege, Not A Right...But Is It?

"Teleworking Is A Privilege, Not A Right!"

I vehemently disagree with this statement.

*Disclaimer - My current job does not allow me to telework nor have I ever had a job where I was allowed to work remotely. I am speaking merely from a personal point-of-view. Although, I have had friends/family mention all these phrases to me or have viewed them at one point in time. Lastly (and most importantly), this is not a dig at any company in particular.*

I know many people that telework, remote work, work from home, etc. I will use these terms interchangeably in this post.  Remote working is also something that interests me when it comes to how companies or organizations utilize their employees.

I have had this idea for a long time to write about remote working. Even though it does not affect me directly, I am very passionate about it.  What drives that passion are a few common phrases that I have heard/read over the last few years:

"We will only let you telework if we trust you."

"We pay you less because you can work remotely."

"Employees must assume good responsibility while working remotely (no, I don't know what 'assume good responsibility means)."

Finally the ringer: "Teleworking is a privilege, not a right."

I will tackle each of these issues directly. 

1.  "We will only let you telework if we trust you."

This one is pretty obvious to me.  As a company, you are willing to hire someone whom you do not trust? If you look at hiring individuals who you feel need to be to micromanaged either you're not a good leader or you are hiring the wrong people.  When an employee works for your company or organization you are trusting them with the reputation of your company. By stating " We will only let you telework if we trust you," sends a message of distrust to your employees.  Which back to the point, that if you cannot trust an employee, they should not be an employee of your company.

2.  "We pay you less because you can work remotely."

This one falls in line with another excuse that managers in the restaurant business say, but in reality, have very little weight behind the sentence, "We can't donate leftover food because we will be sued."

Well, not technically. The Huffington Post ran an article last year titled Restaurants Officially Have No Excuse Not Donate Leftover Food, which calls out the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act passed in 1996 that "Protects restaurants from civil and criminal liability should a recipient get ill or hurt as a result of consumed donated food. Donors are only culpable in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct."

What does this have to do with remote working capabilities? Simple, it is all smoke and mirrors by companies that try to leverage paying less by giving 'privileges' without factual basis. Just like the restaurants not wanting to donate food because it requires effort and money, companies say phrases like, "We pay you less because you can work remotely," because that's what they have always said. If you are doing the same quality of work from your home desk or your office desk, why should it matter?

If companies want to use that phrase, then they should show hard numbers on how much the employee is saving by not having to pay for wear and tear on a vehicle, bus passes, train passes, etc.  An employee who only commutes 5 minutes versus an employee who commutes an hour would vary greatly in money paid each year for the above-said expenses.

3.  "Employees must assume good responsibility while working remotely." 

A couple action items appear right out to me in this statement - 1) why is the company hiring and/or maintaining irresponsible employees?  2) They assume that working while away from the office their employee will be irresponsible and they can mitigate this by keeping them in the office.

As a company, if you cannot trust your employee to be responsible for their duties at a remote site, how can you trust them to be responsible every day? Is a manager going to be working over their shoulder and checking in on them every few minutes to make sure they are not browsing on social media or performing personal duties on the clock (if they're salaried, who cares? As long as work is being completed and/or the product being delivered) I feel this dictates that employees are only being responsible because they have to be.  

I know for our company we want to have employees who are responsible because they want to be.

4.  "Teleworking is a privilege, not a right." 

There are many things that I believe are privileges and not rights - Obtaining and holding a driver's license, choosing to binge watch Breaking Bad, whether or not to eat Taco Bell at 3:00 am...

You know, important things. 

However, I believe that teleworking is neither a privilege nor a right.

It's either part of the job or it is not.  If a company does not have a teleworking policy, but they make exceptions for certain situations, that is fine too.  As with everything, a company should be flexible.  They should not hold actions like teleworking over the heads of their employees like kindergarten teachers to their students about going outside or staying in for recess if they talk during class (read=punishment vs reward). 

If a person hires on at a company and the company has a strict no remote working policy up-front, then that is that person's decision to work there. The company can't be blamed for being honest and sticking to their rules or if the job is not able to utilize remote working.

Remote working should carry the same responsibilities that go into working in the office every day.  Be productive, be available, let people know when you are away, and most of all be courteous. Make sure your coworkers and leaders know if you are going to be gone for a couple hours.  Don't schedule your dentist appointment at the same time you have weekly meetings with customers or your team. If a company policy lets you work remotely bust your ass just as hard (if not harder) than you would in the office.

When hiring great people and maintaining great employees companies do not need to use threats or privileges to maintain order.  They hire good people because of the one, absolute, major, important word that is the foundation of all relationships both personal and working:

Trust.

- Heath