So many organizations have patched together a variety of mechanisms in which to equip their staff to work virtually. The good news is that you don’t have to do things haphazardly. You can strategically consider how to optimize your staff’s performance and your business operations for the future through better equipment policies and procedures. While there are currently no national standard policies or practices for equipping virtual teams, there are three models for you to consider for this process:
- Buy and Distribute
- Reimburse Staff
- Pay Stipends to Staff
The ultimate decision on which option you choose depends on the size and needs of your organization. The following outlines a general overview of the Pros and Cons related to each option.
Buy and Distribute Model
Your organization can choose to buy and distribute standard equipment for all employees such as laptops, printers, cell phones, etc. Organizations can buy them in bulk and distribute them to staff. This is a popular choice among leaders because of the many benefits it affords their organizations.
- Buying and distributing equipment and software ensures all staff are using the same technology(ies).
- With standard equipment, the organization can pre-install standard software, platforms, and applications for the team to use.
- It’s often more cost effective in the long term to buy the equipment in bulk.
- From a maintenance perspective, it is easier for IT support to secure, troubleshoot, and virus-protect standard hardware and software.
- From an insurance perspective, it is often easier to obtain insurance if equipment, policies, and practices are standardized across an organization.
- Finally, from a policy perspective, it is easier to adopt a simpler telework policy if all equipment is standard and provided by the employer.
- There is potential for larger upfront costs to the organization.
- The time and effort required to identify, order, prepare, and distribute standard equipment can be substantial.
- You should have a single point of contact in your organization to oversee the ordering, setup, distribution, maintenance, and collection of all the materials provided to staff. For a smaller organization, you may not have the bandwidth or expertise to accomplish all those tasks successfully.
Reimburse Staff Model
Some organizations prefer to set standard equipment requirements for what an employee must have at-home, and then reimburse employees for purchases of such equipment and software.
- This option requires the least amount of upfront investment for an organization.
- Employers can set up the minimum requirements they need to operate which gives employees the feeling of autonomy when making these choices for the organization.
- This approach places the onus for obtaining the materials on the employee, and potentially creates an organizational cost and performance challenge with hosting/using a myriad of incompatible computers and systems.
- It requires an organization to have a reporting mechanism and process for verifying the expense and reimbursing the employee.
- Issues related to the ownership of the equipment and software can get murky particularly when an employee leaves the organization.
- The burden to fix equipment issues falls either on the employee (who may have substantial trouble getting a fix) or on the organization’s IT support services (who may or may not be familiar with all of the various hardware and software systems purchased by the employee).
Pay Stipends to Staff Model
Finally, some organizations prefer to pay employees a stipend (one-time or regularly) to either buy equipment or pay for ongoing work-at-home costs, such as additional routers or internet services.
(NOTE: In most cases, the employee owns items that s/he buys with the stipend, unless the organization documents in advance that the funds are to be used specifically to pay for “X” and that the organization retains ownership. In this [and ALL] cases, the organization should include an ownership clause in their telework policy.)
- This option can be easier for an organization to administer because it simply requires an extra payment to an employee.
- Also, a unique feature of this approach is that it can be combined with one of the other options above to create an EXTRA benefit for employees and alleviate some of the additional cost burdens placed on their virtual employees.
- Stipends are, in almost all situations, taxable to the employee as extra income.
- Organizations need to be careful about any cash benefits they distribute. If these benefits are not distributed consistently organization wide, employees may perceive it as a discriminatory practice (as some may get more money than others) and could file a legal claim against the organization because of it.
- As with the reimbursement model, an organization runs the risk of inconsistent and incompatible equipment and software across all levels of the organization.
Overall, whether you are embarking on moving your workforce virtual or if you are a newly virtual organization, you have a lot to consider with regard to equipping your staff. Knowing the Pros and Cons of your options should help alleviate concerns. Making the right choice for your organization is important in lowering your risks and optimizing your overall operations.
The author of this blog, Rae Ann Johnson, Esq., is an attorney with 20 years of experience in employment law, contracts, corporate governance, human resources, risk management, and corporate ethics. She has come to Achurch Consulting as a legal advisor helping organizations create meaningful solutions.