Essentials for Your Home Agent Policy - Part 2

know where to go for help, and your policy must clearly spell out their avenues for assistance.

Phone and Internet Connectivity. Is a separate phone line required? Some cable modem service providers sell varying speeds of data transmission. If you're planning to use VoIP, you may want to require a higher speed connection. One policy states "The Associate must be able to obtain an approved Internet Service Provider with a STATIC/STICKY IP number capable of providing the level of connectivity to access the Company WAN and run applications required to perform their job." Many companies use VoIP, but have pockets of the city or country where dependable internet access is problematic. For these exceptions, a separate PSTN phone line may be required for the voice path.

"How to" Information. Either in your policy statement or in a separate procedures document, tell your home agent how they'll get a computer, or standards their own computer must meet. Address how software updates should be handled. How do they get their equipment set up, and who will they go to for help? Include information on connecting through your VPN, and login and password procedures. Provide troubleshooting tips. You'll likely want to have remote-control software such as GoToMyPC or Symantec pcAnywhere on the PC, so your Help Desk can take control remotely if needed.

Equipment. One company's policy statement covers it well: "Only equipment supplied by the organization will be maintained by the organization. Company reserves the right to make determinations as to appropriate equipment, subject to change at any time. Equipment supplied by the company is to be used in accordance with company policy, and employees will be held to the same policies and standards regarding the appropriate use of technology (computer equipment, telephone, email, internet, etc.) as they would if they were working inside a company office. The At Home Agent will be required to sign an inventory of all office property and will agree to take appropriate action to protect the items from damage or theft. The employee is responsible for loss or damage, other than normal wear and tear. Upon termination of employment or discontinuance of At Home privileges, the employee will be required to return all company property as instructed."

Technology Restrictions. Will you allow your agents to use Bluetooth devices? (One customer told me a supervisor in their company was talking with a home agent and heard a flush in the background! Their policy now prohibits agents from roaming away from the dedicated work space.)

Ergonomics. We spoke with one company that provides an ergonomic chair for home agents and provides ergonomics information and diagrams in their employee handbook. In some states, employers must provide an ergonomically-appropriate workspace regardless of whether the employee works at home or in the office. Even in states with no such standard, employers remain generally responsible for the health and safety of their employees and may be responsible for on-the-job injuries under workers' compensation laws.

Your policy needs to specify not only technology and ergonomic requirements, but who will pay for what. Proactively address who will pay for office furniture, the PC, a headset, fax equipment, photocopiers, and a printer and/or a shredder if needed. Monthly expenses you'll want to address in your policy include the cost of an additional phone line if needed, and internet connectivity, as well as any mailing costs. Will you require your agents to drive into the office for meetings or training? If so, your policy should address any commuting costs.

In our next segment on policy statements, we'll focus on how an agent requests to participate, and the approval process. By now you're probably thinking that your Home Agent policy is going to be a big document - and you're right! I've seen policies as small as one page, but they're not comprehensive. To cover the aspects you really need to address from a legal perspective, don't skimp on the details.