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Vol. 41, No. 6

From an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to a firm ‘no’: Additional thoughts on telecommuting

by Dan Kittay

Many other bar executives and staff members offered opinions on the viability of telecommuting, based on their own experiences, which are as varied as bar associations themselves.

Active encouragement at Maricopa

Executive Director Allister Adel came to the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Bar Association after working in state government offices that allowed telecommuting. The bar did not yet have that in place, so she set up a system to evaluate which employees could be eligible for it, as well as the agreement and policies to clarify procedures.

“I encourage telecommuting at least one day a week, based on the needs of the office,” she says. “I believe it’s an employee benefit, especially when you have employees who may drive 20 miles to come to the office. It’s saving them gas and time.”

Ad hoc policy works for Alameda

Having an “ad hoc” telecommuting policy works well for the Alameda County (Calif.) Bar Association, says Tiela Chalmers, chief executive officer and general counsel. Childcare and home emergencies are often reasons to allow an employee to work from home on a given day, Chalmers says.

She is “ambivalent” about having non-exempt staffers work from home … but it’s not from concern that they won’t work as much as they say they are.

“My concern is that people work more than they’re supposed to,” she says. Because her staff is dedicated to getting the job done, Chalmers says she often has to tell administrative staff to leave at the end of the day. “We have no funding for overtime,” she explains; if non-exempt employees are working at home, she is not able to have that level of control.

Flexibility at the Federal bar

Flexibility has been key to the success of the Federal Bar Association’s telecommuting practice, says Stacy King, executive director. Managers and directors are eligible for regular telecommuting, which is generally for one or two days per week. Some prefer to be in the office most of the time and only telecommute occasionally, King says.

Offering the ability to work from home helps the bar retain employees, she says: “The workflow allows people to recharge a little bit.”

Extenuating circumstances in Missouri

Through unfortunate circumstances, The Missouri Bar adopted a telecommuting arrangement when Communications Director Gary Toohey needed radiation treatment for cancer last year. He had to be in St. Louis, a 2.5-hour drive, for seven weeks. The bar set up a virtual private network (VPN) that allowed Toohey to connect to his work computer. He used his cell phone for email and calling in to the bar’s voicemail system for his messages. This allowed him to tend to his health without taking medical leave, he says.

Beyond dealing with emergency situations, The Missouri Bar has not adopted a formal telecommuting policy, Toohey says, and he is not sure if the bar will move to establish one.

Not feasible in Tulsa

While he thinks telecommuting could work in some situations for bars with a larger staff, Executive Director Kevin Cousins says his four-person staff at the Tulsa County Bar Association is simply too small to telecommute.

“Having less than four here, while it’s manageable, it does make it more burdensome,” he says, adding that the bar owns its building, which eliminates the incentive to allow telecommuting as a way to save on overhead.

Speaking of the bar center, it’s where a lot of Tulsa bar activities take place, meaning it’s important to have staff members onsite.

“It's just not a fit for us currently,” Cousins says. “For bar associations that have a larger staff, it could be more realistic.”