As we become increasingly more mobile, telecommuting programs are among the fastest growing benefit for employees. While the term “work from home” may trigger visions of a 24-year-old with a laptop at a Starbucks, the typical telecommuter is actually a 49-year old college graduate.

Having an endless supply of caramel macchiatos during the workday may be appealing for some workers, but the idea of avoiding hours in the car for a daily commute to work is probably even more appealing.

Employees benefit from work-from-home options because it allows them more flexibility and potentially less stress, which results in higher job satisfaction. Employers benefit because workers are more productive (think less time in the car), have lower absenteeism and can save on office space and employee parking.

If telecommuting is such a great perk, why did Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously ban the practice several years ago? Mayer acknowledged that telecommuting employees are more productive than non-telecommuting employees but the fact that employees are “more collaborative and innovative when they’re together” trumped when it came to Yahoo’s priorities at the time.

While the backlash to Mayer’s ban was huge, it was more a statement on workplace flexibility in general than on Yahoo’s policy since the ban only affected 200 of the Company’s 12,000 employees.

There are, of course, obvious challenges to having a remote workforce – it is much more difficult for managers to keep tabs on what employees are doing and employees often feel disconnected from their work and their colleagues. It can also be harder to stay focused when daytime soaps and online shopping are just a click away.

But, telecommuting programs need not be all or nothing. The right program for your company could allow for employees to work from home for one or two days per week, rather than 100% of the time. In fact, most telecommuting employees say that a combination of work from home two to three days per week and from the office two to three days per week is just the right balance.

If you are considering a telecommuting program, we recommend you have a Telecommuting Agreement with participating employees that addresses the following points:

  • the scope of the employee’s work hours;
  • how often and when the employee must physically report to the office (if at all);
  • a description of the specific area in the home that will serve as the employee’s workspace;
  • requirements for workplace safety;
  • requirements for security of the Company’s data;
  • how the employee should report hours worked and how often the employee must check in with his or her manager;
  • who provides and maintains the equipment the employee will use for work; and
  • allowing the employer to inspect the home worksite with adequate notice to ensure the work environment is safe and that company equipment is properly maintained.

Also keep in mind that telecommuting may be required under certain circumstances as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Telecommuting programs are more “perk” than “problem” but be sure to manage your telecommuting employees carefully to avoid common mishaps that can happen when your employees are out of sight.