Whether your company is already fully remote or just transitioning due to the recent COVID pandemic, it is likely to encounter obstacles and misunderstandings related to remote working. One solution for those challenges is drafting a good remote work policy. This policy is actually a remote work agreement that outlines all the aspects of remote work arrangements: duties, expectations, and procedures.
And though the word policy may make you roll your eyes and think of bureaucracy, that doesn't have to be the case. Informal or verbal procedures may sound great, especially in teams where trust is king. Still, they can cause headaches even with the best of intentions.
Remote work policy purpose
You may wonder why a remote work policy is needed in the first place. As we have covered in one of our previous articles, remote work is not about location or a worksite. It's an entirely different work method and setting. A solid remote work policy is a necessity that makes life easier for everyone: the managers, the teams, and the company as a whole. Even if your company is introducing remote working short-term, you should consider creating one.
With space for misunderstandings out of the way, everyone can focus on establishing trust and doing their best work.
What to include in a remote work policy
The first step to comprehensive remote work policy is understanding it is and what it should contain. It is important to cover the basics before drafting, whether you plan to use a remote work policy template found on the internet or write your own.
When drafting a remote work policy for your company, you need to think about all aspects of work performance, even those you wouldn't consider significant in a traditional office. Policy elements like responsiveness and communication practices may not cross your mind, so a vital piece of advice is to include team members from all departments not just human resources in the policy creation. Some of them may offer insights that will prove essential, so gather your team and go through the policy ideas with them.
Let's dive right into some of the crucial elements of a good remote work policy and explore them individually.
Remote work eligibility
The first chapter in creating a telecommuting policy and procedure establishes which positions are eligible to work remotely and outlines them clearly. If the company is not fully remote, the HR department will need to analyze the organizational structure and determine which employees can telecommute and how often. Of course, in cases of roles not suitable for remote work, those should be included in the eligibility chapter as well. In specific situations, like working from home part-time and otherwise from the office, home policy also needs to be analyzed for each position within the company.
Remote work authorization
After you have completed the list of positions and personnel eligible to telecommute, you need to make this transition official. Employees should submit a request for remote work and specify whether they wish to telecommute full-time or part-time. This request needs to be approved, which brings us to the next step - authorization. Make sure to document who approves remote work requests and how the procedure of submitting a request works.
Work expectation management
Managing expectations is one of the most critical elements of a well-crafted remote work agreement. Since remote workers often end up working longer hours and therefore jeopardize their work-life balance, the remote work policy should address telecommuters' availability and their working hours. Whether your remote team sticks to the 9-5 schedule or has flexible hours, ensure their availability is highlighted in the remote work agreement. Apart from work hours, the policy should contain the expected outcome of your employees' work and responsibilities. Emphasize any changes that may affect particular positions and their workload, set guidelines for attendance, and give instructions on communication processes for work expectation management.
Worker's compensation and benefits
A professional remote work policy contains information on the base salary and any other perks or expenses that remote workers (or even their family members) are entitled to. Paid time off, sick leave, health insurance, 401k, and other contributions need to be specified clearly, especially if you are a part of a hybrid company.
Some remote companies offer enticing perks, such as unlimited vacation days or donation matching; others have education and training budgets for their teams. If your company provides any additional benefits, even on a case-by-case basis, make sure to list them in the company policy with all their limitations and use conditions.
Let’s talk about remote work expenses. Your remote workers save a lot of energy and time on commuting, but they do have expenses and needs even when working from home. Having in mind each remote worker's position, think of ways to make them more productive and satisfied. Is there a monthly allowance for their wellbeing and health, such as a gym membership or a yoga class? Include all budgets or reimbursement options, their limitations, and procedures for approval in the policy.
Rightful termination is a standard part of most company policies. It covers the basis for termination and the procedures related to it. However, in a remote work employee policy, it should contain a clause stating that employees cannot be terminated based on working remotely. This simple inclusion prevents managers from treating remote workers differently than office-based ones simply because of the lack of in-person contact.
The rightful termination clause should also cover procedures related to equipment when a remote employee leaves the company.
Compliance with company policies
Whether they work remotely or not, all employees have to comply with rules and company policies, such as the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics. If your company has an Anti Discrimination or Equal Opportunity policy, your remote employees should abide by it and benefit from it. Since they can't be "seen" in the same way as office staff, telecommuters can easily be overlooked for promotions and bonuses. The remote work policy should clearly state equal opportunities for your remote workers.
Compliance with company policies has a happiness bonus too: it can enhance the sense of belonging for remote teams. Sometimes it's difficult for people to feel like they are part of a team when working from a remote location. An exact code of conduct can help adjust their mindset and boost their adherence to company values.
Safety and security
An exemplary remote work policy should address the insurance and liability related to employee safety and security. The company can require remote members' workspaces to be vetted and approved or offer guidelines on creating a safe workspace at home. Either way, procedures, rules, and coverage for work-related injuries need to be specified in the policy.
Another thing you should consider including in your remote work policy is the cybersecurity section. Work-at-home may have numerous benefits, but it may put your company's information security at risk. If your employees are using personal equipment or mobile devices, have your IT department outline the best practices and software that should be implemented.
Measuring productivity for remote work
Whether you have a remote work policy or not, evaluating your employees' productivity requires some common sense and just a little bit of effort. First of all, develop work plans that outline responsibilities and tasks for your remote workers. Then come up with how the productivity will be measured. The rise of flexible work environments made it possible to measure the outcomes of someone's work instead of the hours they spent sitting at the desk. A useful tip is to borrow a page from the process of hiring independent contractors - put deliverables in place because results and quality of work are what matters.
Communication protocols and responsiveness policy
The multitude of options available for getting in touch can, at times, make it harder to streamline the way we communicate at work. It's useful to create communication protocols that explain what is communicated through which channel when people work remotely. Such protocols will ensure nothing gets lost in the email inbox when it should have been on Slack and vice versa. It removes the need for unnecessary video conferencing as well. Keep in mind that rules like these also cover touchpoints such as check-ins with your remote workers and feedback gathering.
The responsiveness of remote employees is an area to pay particular attention to. Define how quickly someone needs to reply to a coworker or supervisor and work schedule when the response time is crucial.
Just like other company policies, employees need to abide by any agreements on confidentiality they signed. Most people don't actively think about how working remotely can lead to breaching confidentiality agreements, which is why it's essential to cover this topic in writing. Point out any risky situations, such as conducting a client meeting online while in a coffee shop and discussing confidential information in other people's presence. Offer guidance and advice about navigating similar situations that remote workers can always consult when in doubt.
Data protection for remote work
Data protection goes hand in hand with confidentiality. When employees work outside of the office, sensitive information needs outstanding safeguarding. Think about your particular company's remote work risks and try mitigating them with clear rules and procedures for employees.
If your employees need to have printed documents in their possession while working remotely, include a clause about keeping them in a locked cabinet. Create a rule about changing passwords regularly and not using public wi-fi networks and emphasize regulations about downloading suspicious or illegal software. Define who needs to use a VPN and make sure all employees adhere to encryption best practices. Finally, define which software the company will provide to help remote workers safeguard sensitive information.
Equipment and tech support
Work equipment is a crucial element of the remote work policy; it pertains both to data protection and the expenses and benefits. First of all, determine the equipment needs of your remote team and see if the company needs to allocate a budget for a home office setup. Paying a monthly allowance for costs of running a home office is also a perk many remote workers will appreciate, so consider including it in the policy for remote employees.
Outlining the obligations for maintaining and repairing broken equipment will prevent confusion and disagreements - make sure you give way to this topic as well.
Then start thinking about equipment from the perspective of security and data protection. For example, you may want to introduce a cell-phone policy that makes it mandatory for employees to use a company-provided phone for work calls.
Finally, don't forget the technical issues and difficulties that happen to all of us sometimes. If the company offers designated tech support staff for remote workers, list their names, contacts, and work hours in the remote work policy. Encourage reaching out for support whenever a problem arises, no matter how small. This can enhance data security and ensure people don't lose too much time on technical issues.
How to implement a remote work policy
After you have established all the rules and procedures surrounding remote work, you need to start implementing the policy. Start by making sure every employee is familiar with the policy's content and understands it. It may require time to go over the document with everyone, whether by organizing an all-hands meeting with remote employees or having one-on-one calls with each of them.
It is a good idea to periodically check whether everyone is adhering to the rules or having any difficulties with them. After all, the policy may need to be changed or expanded depending on the circumstances, which is why implementing it once and forgetting about it isn't an option.
Every beginning is hard, so give your team some time to get used to remote work and make new habits. With a well-crafted policy, companies support their teams in transition to remote work and ensure it is quick, efficient, and productive for everyone.