Face it; the ‘new normal’ is here to stay
It is becoming increasingly evident that remote work is – at least in part – here to stay. Despite the bad reputation that working from home has historically had, new technologies, combined with the work-from-home regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown that people are able to conduct the same work at home as in the office.
While remote work policies were thrown together haphazardly following the abrupt onset of the global pandemic, taking the time to flush out more permanent plans is worthwhile as hybrid workplaces become the ‘new normal.’ Clear expectations need to be defined to eliminate confusion and disconnect, as well as ensure employee success. Importantly, it’s possible that without a legally sound remote work policy, your efforts can unexpectedly create big legal problems for you.
Ultimately, a remote work policy should give autonomy to and empower your workforce to work in the way that’s best for them, ultimately driving productivity and company success.
Data Doesn’t Lie
CBRE found through a survey that 77% of respondents expect to have at least some level of remote work in their post-COVID-19 workplace, with nearly half anticipating a workforce of up to three-fourths remote employees. A Clickshare survey revealed that 23% of meetings are already a mixture of in-person and remote attendees; employees predict that proportion will jump to 29% in a year. People want the flexibility of remote working, and it can actually give productivity a boost. Another study showed that remote US workers put in 1.4 more days a month than their office-based counterparts.
Benefits of A Remote Work Policy
A remote work policy is useful to both your company and employees as it lays out clearly all expectations.
- Employee eligibility
- Work schedule and availability
- Communication channels
- Technology resources
A robust policy supports the fair and consistent application of rules across your organization which minimizes the risk of employees or managers making assumptions that can negatively affect productivity, morale, or both. A remote work policy also reduces the risk of burnout by better defining the boundaries between when an employee’s workday ends and when their free time begins.
By assessing the nature of your work and operating model, which (if any) positions can realistically be done remotely. Your employees will have their own insights into the remote work experience, and so supportive consultations with various staff members can greatly benefit policy development.
The determined positions should be clearly stated in company policy, as well as which positions cannot be done remotely to avoid future inquiries or requests that challenge the policy.
Having measurable goals and work plans for those individuals or tasks that can be accomplished remotely can help not only maintain productivity but cultivate a feeling of direction, purpose, and motivation for your employees. Knowing what you want to achieve is always important, but without the physical presence of team members and managers to prompt and encourage, goal setting becomes even more vital.
Schedule & Availability
Whether the demands of your company require a set schedule for everyone, or your employees are able to determine their own work hours, this should be clearly outlined in the remote work policy. This policy should also be consistent across in-office and at-home employees to avoid creating frustration or feelings of unfairness.
Being clear about expectations will also help keep employees from working too much overtime. Failing to properly monitor and compensate your employees can result in potential liability. Having measures in place to control, monitor and compensate employees appropriately – while at the same time not limiting flexibility –should be considered.
When making this determination, it is important to keep in mind that flexibility is key. Talent these days are looking for the positions that give them the most agency in their work, location and schedules. Unless your company cannot accommodate, to remain competitive, it is advantageous to provide some leeway. However, if an organization cannot properly manage flexibility, it can become counter-productive, with people doing too much overtime or not being available when they are needed. A balance is needed for maximum effectiveness.
Additionally, when developing methods of tracking productivity, monitoring time spent working is not the most effective method. Establishing metrics that are reflective of the tasks of their respective roles will provide a better indicator of how productive your employees are at home.
Wide distribution of the workforce inevitably causes communication difficulties. No longer can employees pop over to another’s desk to ask a question or quickly call together a last-minute meeting. Regular, targeted, effective, and personalized two-way (as opposed to merely top-down) communication is essential for organizations can keep employees informed, as well as know what’s going on within the team. Communication channels should be established and outlined in remote work policy to ensure effective communication from the onset, cultivating healthy relationships between all members.
Different types of communication will require different channels as well. Important considerations here are inter-team communications, number of meeting members, urgency of contact, etc. It is important not to overwhelm employees with the sheer number of options, so carefully considering the needs of your team and the advantages of certain options will help you choose the right channels. Tools should be provided for communicating with team members and collaborating on projects.
Don’t forget to acknowledge the wins! It is important to offer encouragement, recognize achievements and celebrate the successes of all employees, but especially those working remotely.
Every organization will have unique demands and capacities regarding the provision of equipment and technology. What the company will supply and what the employees will be responsible for should be included in your policy documentation to avoid confusion and ensure everyone is able to complete their tasks to the required standard.
Supplying employees should be accomplished under equitable terms, ensuring that everyone is properly equipped while not exhausting corporate funds. Needs can be met on a case-by-case basis to assist those who are more in need of financial support.
You will also most likely need to extend your tech support services, as problems will be more complex and individualized for a distributed workforce. Including a clear action plan for when technical difficulties arise will help reduce interruption time and simplify the resolution process.
DIY Remote Work Policy
Below is a rough template with examples that you can follow to build your own remote work policy.
Step 1: Establish Policy Brief and Purpose
Clearly identify who this documentation is important for, why it is important, and how it is to be used:
This document contains the terms and conditions for working remotely. It should act as a guide for both management and the employee and must be signed by the employee to acknowledge they read through and understood the details herein.
Step 2: Define Scope
Make this clear and simple:
This policy applies to employees who conduct their work outside the office, either part-time or permanently.
Eligible employees are those whose duties can be met through basic hardware and software; they have proven to be trustworthy, disciplined, and self-motivated; and have been given permission by the company.
Optional: Employees in roles that do not suit remote working conditions can apply for work from home permission for a few days a year.
(If you have a maximum number of remote workdays, or require specific days to be spent in-office, outline those here.)
Step 3: Outline Standard Practices
Clarify that most policies that apply to in-office work also apply to remote work:
The following policies established for in-office work likewise apply to remote work:
- Attendance and Quality.
- Data protection.
- Employee Code of Conduct.
- Anti-discrimination/Equal opportunity.
- Dress code when meeting with customers or partners.
Step 4: Designate Schedule
Remote work can provide ample opportunity for flexibility. To encourage productivity, however, the following suggestions can be used as helpful guidelines:
We request that remote workers continue to adhere to the company expectations regarding work hours:
- Dedicate full attention to job duties during working hours.
- Adhere to break and attendance schedules agreed upon with the manager.
- Ensure schedules overlap with those of team members for as long as is necessary to complete job duties effectively.
Step 5: Set Work Environment Expectations
Suggest elements that will encourage productivity and performance:
We advise our remote employees to:
- Choose a quiet and distraction-free working space.
- Have an internet connection that is adequate for their job.
- Work in an environment that does not violate health and safety regulations.
Step 6: Establish Communication Channels
Outline methods and frequency of communication, and responsible personnel for regular tasks:
Team members and managers should determine long-term and short-term goals. They should frequently meet to discuss progress and results.
Team meetings will be scheduled at least once per week.
Any correspondence from a co-worker or client must be answered as quickly as possible.
Step 7: Provide Equipment
We will provide our remote employees with equipment that is essential to their role such as laptops, webcams, and mics. We will not provide secondary equipment such as lighting or internet.
Equipment that we provide is company property. Employees must keep it safe and avoid any misuse. Specifically, employees must:
- Keep their equipment password protected.
- Store equipment in a safe and clean space when not in use.
- Follow all data encryption, protection standards and settings.
- Refrain from downloading suspicious, unauthorized or illegal software.
A remote-work allowance will be provided to cover work-related costs.
Step 8: Ensure Security
Clearly outline expectations, such as:
Employees will use VPNs and cybersecurity software provided by the company. Do not print or download confidential documents. Be wary of accessing sensitive material when working in public spaces or using non-private Wi-Fi. Client confidentiality must be protected and never disclosed.
It is hard to know how many hours your employees are actually working when they work remotely. If your workers are salaried and exempt from overtime, this is not a big deal. But if your employees are paid by the hour and are eligible for overtime, labour violations could be one punch of the time clock away.
Even if you instruct your employees to not exceed their allotted work hours, they still must be paid overtime if they do. Keeping tabs on their activity is significantly more difficult when they are not in the office, so using software to monitor activity or disconnecting some work-related services during off-hours can help.
Remote workers can easily become “out of sight, out of mind” employees. But this undesirable management habit can have serious fallout, especially considering that a significant number of those working remotely are women with children or people with disabilities. To avoid this, your policy should explicitly discuss remote workers’ right to training, promotions and visibility, and follow up with management to support it.
Before granting an employee permission to work from home, it is a good idea to verify that workers’ environments are suitable for work and don’t pose any undue risk.
Remember: If an employee gets hurt on the job, even if they are not in the office, the employer could still face legal consequences.
Because it’s so important!
Working remotely exponentially increases the risk of a security breach as it is much harder to guarantee security when work happens out of office. Your policy needs to make people aware of the risks, give guidance on avoiding them, and instructions on what to do if security is compromised. Simple steps can go a long way.
Typically, privacy is a customer guarantee, so for the sake of your clients’ protection and your own reputation, make sure leaks are protected against.
While flexibility offers better work-life balance and a wellbeing boost, remote working can also lead to loneliness, especially for those who aren’t used to it. Mental health needs to feature in your policy to make sure there are regular check-ins with managers and peer groups. Emotional intelligence and empathy on the part of managers can also help.
This article has provided a crash course on remote work policy. Empowered with this knowledge, you have the tools to develop your own policy that will serve your team in the best way possible so everyone can experience the benefits of remote work.