Out of Pocket: Financial Questions for Telecommuters and Managers

Who pays for the printer paper, toner cartridges and ISP service?

By Esther Schindler
Fri, May 11, 2007

CIO — Sure, telecommuting can save the company money. But it has unique expenses of its own. Before you and your employee agree on a telecommuting plan, be sure to answer the following questions about what the company will pay for.

For more about the relationship between telecommuter and manager, see "Getting Clueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting."

There aren't any right or wrong answers to these questions; the only right one is the policy that the company sets, or the agreement you negotiate with telecommuting staff. However, like all such issues, they're best addressed before the worker assumes that something is covered by the company. I knew one corporate accounting person who was appalled, simply appalled, that a telecommuter had expensed an item of office furniture.

So here are a few questions to ask yourself (or, if you're the telecommuter, to ask your manager):

Does the company supply a part-time telecommuter's computer or give her a notebook system for easy transportation to and from home? If the telecommuter is expected to supply her own computer equipment, then how well can you or should you control the software loaded on that computer? (Realistically, you can't. If you pay for a telecommuter's work computer, you can require that only work-related software be loaded on it. If it's a home PC, then it'll have the kids' homework and games on it as well as the company spreadsheets.)

Who pays for the phone connection and the ISP? For a full-time telecommuter, who pays for the "extras" that make 14-hour days acceptable, such as a notebook docking station, separate keyboard, big-screen monitor, printer, fax machine and laptop backpack? If the employee uses her own computer, will you pay for another copy of the company-approved antivirus software and an additional license for work-related applications (whether that's Photoshop or Visual Studio)?

Those questions aren't limited to computing equipment. A telecommuter who works in the company office is obviously supplied with an office chair and a desk. Who pays for a new chair when the telecommuter's office-supply-special wears out? What about supplies like paper and toner cartridges?

Your company policy should spell out the answers to these questions, and it should be fair. Something has to make up for all those lost brownie opportunities.

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