The number of employees who work from home has grown by 103 percent since 2005, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The same analysis reports that 80 to 90 percent of employees say they would like the option of working from home for at least part of the week. Advances in communication technology have made this increased flexibility with work schedules possible, and this option isn’t limited to Fortune 500 companies with vast resources and access to cutting-edge technology.
Criminal defense and DUI attorney Michael Fienman runs a small private practice, Fienman Defense, in Philadelphia. He had an HR problem that demanded a creative solution. “The issue I’ve had to work around is that the main office of my law practice is in Philadelphia, but my law clerk lives in Doylestown. She’s a mom, and the commute is horrendous and time-consuming.” His solution was to allow her to work remotely to avoid driving into the city every day.
Fienman communicates with his law clerk via phone, email and text messaging, since technology is readily available. “I have found that leveraging technology has allowed my employees to maintain a positive work-life balance without limiting the ability to assign tasks as my workflow requires. Of course, communication in my business is fundamental, but file sharing technology is what really allows many professionals in my field to work from home.” Much of her job entails research, most of which can be conducted online. “If she needs offline resources, she can go to her local law library,” Fienman says.
The law clerk position is primarily one of research and writing, so Fienman’s clerk generally does not need to interact with the firm’s office staff, although she does, on occasion, need to collaborate with Fienman’s secretary. “I provide assignments and interface directly with my law clerk,” says Fienman.
This arrangement does require some adjustments. “Collaborating remotely with someone on a project is inherently different than working together in an office setting. Even with all of the technology, including video conferencing, it’s hard to replicate a true face-to-face discussion.”
For business owners considering this option for their employees, Fienman warns that employers need to be willing to relinquish some control over their staff. They also need to heed IRS regulations regarding the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. “I encourage businesses who are interested in having staff work remotely to review the decision with their tax professional. Regardless, I recommend that businesses start by allowing someone to essentially beta test all of their technology infrastructure such as communications, file sharing, etc. and spend some time testing on a small scale before allowing a large portion of the workforce to work from home. No matter how experienced the staff is, there will be a learning curve as people adapt to their new normal.”
His experience offering remote work for his own law clerk has worked extremely well. “Working remotely has been beneficial to both of us. It gives her the flexibility she needs to work on her own schedule,” says Fienman, “and I get the benefit of a talented employee who’s good at her job. This kind of flexibility definitely helps with employee retention.”
This article was written by Gillian Burdett for Small Business Pulse