Businesses are moving further away from an “office-first” culture and toward one of flexible working — during the past 12 years, the number of people working remotely has risen by 159%. It makes sense, then, that businesses should also be thinking about how to create a remote work policy.
Formal policies carry the benefit of providing clarity and transparency for both employers and employees on the company’s remote work or work-from-home policy. This is especially important now as the world has been plunged into enforced remote work due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking from experience, businesses that don’t create and implement formal remote work policies will struggle to successfully manage the way their employees telecommute, or work away from the office.
Not only does the lack of a company policy cause problems and confusion, but it can also disrupt your workforce and generate a mutual feeling of distrust.
To help businesses combat problems early on, we’ll go through the considerations they need to make before creating a policy and what a successful remote work policy looks like.
Overview: What is a work-from-home policy?
A work-from-home or remote work policy is an agreement or set of guidelines a company uses to outline expectations and responsibilities for employees who work either from a remote location or from home.
These policies typically include information on:
- Which employees can work remotely
- When and how often eligible employees can work remotely (incorporating an employee attendance policy)
- Legal rights of employees working remotely
- The equipment and technology employees are provided
- The expectations and goals of employees working remotely
A remote work policy (also known as a telecommuting policy) can cover both employees who work remotely on a full-time basis and employees who occasionally work from home.
What to consider when drafting a remote work policy
Businesses all over the globe are pivoting to remote work, but many are forgoing a formal remote work policy.
HR policies take time and resources to compile and roll out, but that’s no excuse for not having a formal remote work policy. Without one, businesses open themselves up to myriad liabilities.
Here are a few aspects to consider before creating your business’s remote work policy.
1. Which employees will be eligible for remote working?
This question ties into the rationale behind your decision to allow employees to work remotely. Businesses should be wary of granting remote work as a “reward” for tenure or seniority since doing so carries the risk of alienating other employees.
Remote work should be offered as part of a strategy that aims to bring efficiency to the organization and flexibility to the employees.
Here are some other things to consider when defining which employees should be eligible for remote working/telecommuting arrangements:
- Think about the different roles in your organization: Depending on your industry, not all roles can be conducted remotely. The suitability of working from home may also depend on whether roles are client-facing or are restricted by equipment only available at a core office. These factors can be addressed by assigning specific days of the week when certain employees can work remotely.
- Consider if you want to define eligibility criteria: Will everyone be eligible to telecommute, or will there be conditions for employees wanting to work from home? For example, a policy may state that only employees who have been with the company for six months or those who achieve 90% of their goals may work remotely.
- Define how often employees can work from home: Can employees work from home on an unlimited basis, or will you limit the number of days per month? Will this differ from team to team and department to department? Do you want to assign certain days when everyone should be in the office? How much notice should employees give before working from home?
- Decide who will approve remote working requests: Do you want work-from-home requests to be managed by your HR department or by individual managers? Either way, consider using a HR system to readily manage remote working requests.
2. How and how often should managers connect with remote workers?
A large part of successfully handling telecommuting is learning how best to remotely manage employees. This includes how often managers should check in, how often they should schedule one-on-ones, and which remote tools to use.
Broadly speaking, this question can be addressed by looking at how often employees are permitted to work from home.
For example, if your policy states that employees can largely work from home whenever they want, you’ll need to make more concrete plans for connecting with them. If they are teleworking on a less-regular basis, you can be more flexible.
Here are a few tips for deciding how to connect with remote employees:
- Set expectations early: If your employees are working remotely on a more permanent basis, you’ll need to be clear on how often and when you’ll have one-on-one meetings with direct reports. If employees are working remotely less regularly, it may be easier to schedule one-on-one meetings when you can both be present. Try to keep last-minute scheduling to a minimum and agree on days and times for specific meetings.
- Establish which communication channels you’ll use: For one-on-ones and group meetings, you’ll need to decide which types of video conferencing tools will best suit your needs. Take into consideration whether you’ll need to present project updates or share an agenda since this will factor into your software choice. For general day-to-day communication, you’ll need a business communication tool such as Slack to help employees connect in real time through direct and group messages.
3. How can you measure productivity?
If you’re new to managing a remote team, measuring the productivity of your employees can be a daunting task.
Instructing employees to use a time-tracking tool to calculate the hours they work may give the impression you don’t trust them, yet you still need to make sure employees are supported well enough to remain productive while working remotely.
Here are a few ways you can measure productivity without appearing overbearing:
- Think about results-driven productivity: This means looking more at the end results of a task or project than how it was achieved. Embracing remote work means trusting employees to work in a way that suits them in order to achieve results and outcomes. Presenteeism, or an employee being at work but not fully functioning due to illness or injury, has no place in remote working strategies, so forget the idea that employees need to work a full eight hours to achieve success.
- Keep employees informed: Whichever methods you use to measure productivity, let your employees know about them. If they’re going to be assessed on time spent on a project or how many touches they took to make a sale, specify these types of metrics. When you don’t, all sense of transparency flies out the window.
- Use software to remain organized: A good task management tool will help you keep an eye on how tasks or projects are progressing. You can assign tasks, discuss progress as a team, and see how much progress has been made. Having a visual representation of a project helps managers understand what adjustments might need to be made.
What a successful remote work policy looks like
A remote work policy should include the following five aspects.
Be clear in your remote work policy about your expectations surrounding your employees’ availability. This means being specific about the times you expect your employees to be available for contact.
This part of your policy allows you to be as flexible as you’d like. Working remotely is not the same as working from an office, so it’s advisable to bear that in mind when deciding on a working hours schedule. Remember that the biggest benefit for employees of working remotely is the flexibility.
Be reasonable with your expectations, but be sure to include the following information:
- The hours during which you expect your employees to be available and contactable
- An amount of time during the work day when employees are expected to respond to messages
- Whether the business operates on set working hours or flexible working hours (everyone puts in a set amount of work each week, but they are free to choose when they work)
Technology and equipment
Employees need the right tools to complete their work while telecommuting. It should go without saying that they need to have internet access, but what tools will you provide to help them complete their jobs?
Businesses need to be explicit about what they can offer employees who work remotely. If employees are expected to provide their own laptops or phones, put it in the policy. If the company provides all, or a certain amount, of the technology they’ll need, put it in the policy.
Additionally, it’s extremely important to let employees know what kind of technical support they can access when working remotely and experiencing technical difficulties.
Companies must consider the security of their business data while permitting employees to work remotely. In the absence of a secure and centralized computer network, businesses will need to be explicit about how employees are expected to handle confidential business data.
Remote work policies should include the following information relating to security:
- Rules regarding using personal devices for work purposes
- Guidelines on automatic device locking
- Use of a VPN, or virtual private network, when connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi network
- Use of two-factor or multi-factor authentication.
Legality and liability
As an employer, employee safety is still your concern even though your employees aren’t in the office. This section of a formal remote work policy should outline an employee’s legal rights and any liabilities they, or the company, will be subject to while working remotely.
The policy should include information on the following:
- What equipment is insured
- In the case of injury or sickness, the conditions under which the company will be liable
- Workers’ compensation coverage for remote workers.
A remote work policy should be a work in progress
The key to creating a solid remote work policy is setting expectations early on, ensuring that employees are properly supported to work from home, and, crucially, evaluating the policy on an ongoing basis.
You’re unlikely to create a perfect work-from-home policy with your first draft, and policies can be difficult to execute the first time around.
There will be hiccups and roadblocks that you need to address, but ultimately, fine-tuning your remote work policy will help all employees remain productive and comfortable while working away from the office. Think of it as a remote work company policy template that can be built on.
Remember, guidelines will only get you so far. For any remote work program to succeed, organizations will need to fully commit to the philosophy behind it. Trust, transparency, and flexibility are all key to creating a work-from-home policy that benefits everyone.