These articles were originally published on Gobal Network Navigator (from O'Reilly Publishers, no longer on-line).
Suppose you occasionally work from home, using an old IBM 286 that you bought while in school. It's adequate, but you could get more done if you had a faster machine. What can you do to make your life easier, or to improve your productivity when you telecommute? You have two choices--either ask your company to provide equipment for you to use at home or buy it yourself. This article will address the first option. The other alternative will be discussed in a later column.
Company attitudes toward providing employees with home computers and peripherals vary widely, and even differ among various departments and supervisors within the same company. Official policies are virtually nonexistent. Decisions are almost always made on a case-by-case basis and are not discussed inside or outside the company.
Even at companies that do have official policies, it is often painfully difficult for employees to actually get the equipment. At one scientific publishing company I contacted, employees must receive approval from the general manager for all outside use of equipment. Employees sign a statement that the equipment will be maintained in good working condition and that it will only be used for purposes approved by the general manager. Employees are also responsible for any damage that occurs to the equipment while in their possession. Furthermore, when working from home, employees must use their own time.
If you don't have the support of an official policy or if the policy is overly restrictive, as in the example above, you'll have to take your case directly to your boss. You'll probably only get one chance to convince him or her, so prepare your argument carefully. Be ready to document how having the equipment in your home will benefit the company, not just you. Bring in professional work done at home on your own time, and let your boss know you could have done the task better or faster with a more efficient computer. Keep records of time and costs for database access during office hours versus the same activities conducted after hours (off-peak). Point out how much time is currently wasted converting files from home PC to office PC, and how that offsets the extra effort you are putting in at home.
If your company already provides equipment for some employees, such as traveling representatives, you can base your request on an extension of that policy. Your company may have portable PCs that can be checked out for a limited time, which you can use to prove how much more productive you can be.
You might also arrange to take home your old computer when your office machines are upgraded. (Although if you have just convinced your boss that your current machine is worthless, and you absolutely must have a new one to get any work done, think twice before asking to take the old one home.)
If your company won't provide a complete system, or if you don't need one, you can ask your employer to provide accessories. One environmental chemist at a Midwestern company wanted more than the IBM 286 that the company would provide. She negotiated an agreement that if she bought a new PC herself, the company would provide an external modem, 4 MB of RAM, and a math coprocessor. She notes, "I'll get to keep the extra equipment if I leave this job. I may also be able to talk my boss into an extra hard drive, which I'd have to return if I leave."
You can also ask your company to provide soft resources (those that don't require a cash outlay by the company). One local telephone company provides a second line and call-forwarding from office to home for those who need it. Another company will install software and hardware on home computers if they're brought to the workplace.
If your employer does agree to provide something, make sure you both understand the arrangement. Who will be responsible for paying for repairs, software, and insurance? If software is licensed to the user, you can keep a second copy on your machine at home. Great, but where will the manuals be kept? What about non-work-related activities? Will time spent working at home be company time or your time? What happens if you leave your job? Ideally you should discuss all of these things and have a written agreement before you actually get the equipment. If the company doesn't give you a written agreement, write a memo to your boss and have him or her initial it to indicate agreement. This sample memo will give you a place to start.
Good luck! In my next column I will discuss the other alternative, purchasing equipment for home use yourself.
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