After a recent telework event, someone asked me about the dangers of teleworkers (I assume he meant employees that work from home) that are running a business on the side. I provided him a flip answer about setting expectations and telework agreements but then started thinking about this question more and more after I left.
If asked again I would answer his question with a question (a great technique when avoiding a straight answer): why do you care? Before you jump to a quick answer, think about the following scenario:
A friend of mine worked in a traditional office environment where he was required to come into the office every day. He never worked from home and he didn’t travel. He and his wife also owed a pizza place. His wife managed it but my friend would join her in the evening after work to help out and he would work there most weekends. He received an income from the pizza shop and was listed as one of the owners. Is there a problem with this?
Many people might not take issue with friend’s situation since his pizza business was done on his “own time.” As long as it did not interfere with his day job, then there should be no issues. What about an employee that’s working a second job to make ends meet? In this economy many people have to work day and night to provide for their families.
Why would this be different for a teleworker? Many managers are afraid of teleworkers taking advantage of their employer. For any employee, teleworker or office-bound worker, I would ask the following 3 questions if the employee had their own business on the side or was working a second job:
- Is it a conflict of interest? Do the interests of one job affect the other? In the scenario above, if my friend worked at a tech company, then his pizza business would probably not conflict.
- Does it interfere with their primary job? This is the tricky one. In today’s hyper connected world where the line between professional and personal life is blurred, when is someone really working on “their own time.” Managers need to set expectations if an employee needs to be available between certain hours. If a manager doesn’t care about what hours a teleworker work, as some managers claim, as long as the work gets done, then determining when one job interferes with another my be more difficult. Individual performance metrics come into play. If an employee is spending too much time outside their virtual office, then managers are likely to see performance degrade and can then take appropriate action.
- Is the employee using company equipment? Most organizations have policies around using company assets for personal use. Assets can be physical or non-physical (i.e. trademarks). Although many companies allow some limited personal use of email or phones, anything related to running a side business or performing another job is usually off limits.
It’s natural for managers to become concerned of abuse as they lose line of sight to their employees. However, many of these issues already exist in the traditional, office-bound world. Understanding what organizational policies, procedures, and practices are currently in place can help prepare managers for the transitional to the virtual workplace.
What are your thoughts? Would you add anything to the list of questions above?