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We have an existing telecommuting program for our IT employees. Can we extend this to our IT contractors who work in our offices?

This question has come up more often since many employers are making extensive use of outside contract firms to supply staff on a project basis. This can result in a situation where the contract IT programmers are working side by side with a company's employees who are telecommuting - and it's natural that the contract programmers might want the same opportunity.

There's no reason why you can't include contractors in your program. The big difference, of course, is that you have to deal first with the contracting firm before approaching the individual contract workers. The selection criteria and process have to be at least as rigorous as for your own employees, and the contracting firm will definitely want to have a say about that.

Providing equipment and paying for phone lines is a little tricky only because you have much less control over the contractor than over your own employees. Also, there are some people who feel that if you provide the tools for contract workers, it will be very hard to prevent them from perhaps using these for work on other clients' work.

Since one of the big differences between a contractor and an employee is the issue of supervision and control - which, for contractors should always be provided by the contracting firm and not you (the client), you should think through how that supervision and oversight and review of finished work would change if at all if some or all of them started telecommuting.

Finally, since many companies today have decided to standardize on one or two hardware/software platforms for telecommuters (to keep the support needs under control), you may have to find a way to either arrange for the contract staff to buy an approved PC on their own, or arrange for them to lease the PC. The latter option has the advantage of keeping the contractor's out-of-pocket costs down, and makes it easier for them to upgrade equipment as needed.

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