Remote work has been on the rise for some time. As of 2019, around two-thirds of employers were offering remote work to a subset of their employees. As a result, developing remote work policies is vital for any company offering remote work. These policies lay out expectations for employees so everyone knows what is expected of them while working from home. It also acts as guidelines for better remote workforce management.
Establishing solid work-from-home guidelines is especially important now, with the sudden large-scale shift to remote work. We’ll show you what to include so that your remote work policies are compassionate and flexible while still laying a solid foundation of expectations to keep your business running smoothly.
Work-from-home guidelines ensure that current and future employees know your company’s processes and expectations for remote work. It may be tempting to simply address work-from-home requests as they come in, especially in today’s rapidly changing business climate. The truth is that you need long-lasting, documented policies that your company can continue to use even after you return to the office.
One of the most significant reasons for creating such policies is to prevent confusion. These guidelines spell out expectations regarding hours and productivity. On average, remote workers are more productive than their in-house counterparts, but you and your employees still need to know how that productivity is going to be measured. Established policies also help prevent the appearance of favoritism or unfair treatment by documenting which positions are eligible for remote work.
These policies serve as protection for the company as well. They lay out what technology employees should be using, such as logging onto an internal server instead of downloading documents onto a laptop. This helps protect sensitive data and prevent data breaches.
Thorough policies for working remotely should cover all of the major requirements and expectations for remote workers so there is no confusion. Work with your People Operations/HR department to create a policy that’s in line with your core company values and culture. Though each company’s policies will be a little different, there are a few topics you should include. The following could serve as a broad remote work policy template.
Your policies should state which positions are eligible for remote work. This is particularly important for hybrid companies, where some positions can be remote while others cannot. Eligibility may be broader now than what it was in the past, but it’s still helpful for you and your employees to have those requirements documented.
If there are certain positions that aren’t eligible for remote work at all, or that are only eligible to work remote one or two days a week, these restrictions should go in your policies. You should also state whether only full-time, salaried employees are eligible, or if part-time and hourly employees are eligible as well. Clearly stating eligibility requirements will help prevent the appearance of favoritism.
If an employee does want to work from home, how do they request it? The process needs to be laid out in your policies. First, employees need to know the chain of command. Who do they speak to first about a work-from-home request? The remote work policy should mention how far in advance an employee needs to submit a request in order for it to be approved, and how long they can expect to wait before getting an answer.
Your policy also needs to list any forms or documents needed to file a request. It’s handy to include copies of these forms so employees know exactly what they are expected to do. If you don’t include copies, the policy should state where the employee can find the forms and how to submit them (and to whom they should be submitted). Detailing the request process cuts down on employee and manager confusion and makes the process faster because employees spend less time figuring out what to do.
Clear communication is a common best practice for any type of remote team, but newly distributed employees may not know the channels of communication they are expected to use. Policies for working remotely layout how remote employees are expected to communicate with coworkers and managers.
Start at the beginning: who needs to know the employee will be working remotely? Let people know who they have to notify once their request has been approved. Next, lay out the mediums they should be using for communication, such as email, Slack, or an internal messaging system. This includes systems remote workers should be using for collaborative projects. The exact collaboration tool may differ by team, but your work-from-home guidelines provide a baseline for everyone. For example, every employee might be expected to use a VPN to log into an internal server. Your remote work policy could then have sub-sections detailing the technology required for each team.
This may involve introducing employees to new technology. To help make the transition as smooth as possible, implement a digital adoption platform as part of your remote training. The DAP will help users adjust to the new technology and quickly get back to productive work.
Your policies also need to establish ground rules for giving feedback. Managers need to know how (and how often) they should give feedback to remote workers, and employees need to know when to expect feedback and how they can, in turn, give feedback to managers. For example, are managers going to schedule regular 1:1 conversations? If these details aren’t explicitly included in your work-from-home guidelines, at least document where employees can go to find the answers.
Unclear expectations are a major challenge for remote workers, so spell them out as much as possible in your policies, especially when it comes to hours and productivity. Tell employees when they are expected to be available and whether there are off-limits hours, when no one should be clocked in. This will help prevent unnecessary overtime and ensure that managers know when they should be able to get ahold of remote employees.
If you aren’t setting out specific hours for availability, your policies need to state how you will measure productivity for remote employees. For example, you might track time spent on each project, output of drafts and finished products, or the numbers of customer meetings.
Keep in mind that many remote workers—especially now—have kids at home or may be dealing with illness or anxiety, and allowing a flexible schedule is beneficial for both the employee and the company. Laying out expectations is helpful for both sides, but if the policies are too restrictive, they won’t be as effective at encouraging productivity and a positive work culture.
Your policy that governs employees who work remotely should lay out what kinds of benefits remote employees should expect. For example, do you offer a budget for a home office? Tell employees what is covered, including any equipment like computers, a desk, or VPN software for connecting to work. If you offer reimbursement for certain expenses, include them in the policy.
Your policies should detail what is included and the process for employees who want to request equipment or reimbursement. If you don’t offer any equipment or reimbursement for expenses, you should clearly state this in your policy as it would be very crucial and would confusion amongst employees who work remotely.
As you build your remote work policies, Maria L. Alvarez, senior talent acquisition partner at Internet Creations, suggests considering their hierarchy of needs.
“Start with seeking to understand the unique situation that employee will face. Do they have access to the main necessities of food, medicine, support, etc.? Are they also balancing child or parent care? Do they have a work-from-home setup? If any of these are question mark, these need to be addressed first.”
Detailed work-from-home guidelines help the employee understand what benefits and reimbursement they are eligible for, as well as helping HR and IT be prepared to support remote workers as fully as they support in-office workers.
“Make sure that you’re supported cross-functionally by HR and IT to be able to quickly mobilize resources like your EAP program or help with troubleshooting spotty home internet,” Alvarez says.
Finally, it’s important to remember that employees reading these guidelines are likely working remotely for the first time. It should be a resource for them as well as a list of requirements and expectations. Include a section with tips for working more productively from home. Here are a few examples of tips you could include:
One of the most important tips to include is that employees should overcommunicate. Encourage them to ask for clarification if they have any doubts. Remote workers should share progress regularly, keeping in mind that their managers can’t stop by and see their work, like they can in an office setting. Managers should schedule regular 1:1 meetings with remote employees to ask how they’re feeling and ensure that the employee has the support they need—both emotional and professional.
Having established policies like the ones above will help prevent confusion for both employees and managers. If everyone is on the same page, they can focus on the work itself instead of debating what they need to do while telecommuting.
Nicole Nesman, VP of People at Animalz (a fully remote company), notes: “In today’s environment, it’s critical to start every employment-related issue with compassion and empathy.” Company requirements like eligibility and productivity expectations are the foundation for effective policies, but you still need to be flexible. Compassionate and effective work-from-home guidelines should balance the well-being of the employee with company productivity requirements.
Ultimately, these policies have to be company-specific so they align with your company culture and values. Addressing these topics in your policy will help employees and managers who work remotely stay on the same page and make a smoother transition to working from home.