The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced businesses to take part in the world’s largest remote work experiment. While 63% of companies in the U.S. had a remote workforce before the pandemic, the majority didn’t have a formal remote work policy in place, leaving tens of thousands of businesses and millions of workers questioning what to do following an abrupt shift to a new style of work.
With virtually all nonessential businesses being asked to keep employees home in a condensed span of just a couple of weeks, many are actively scrambling to address new problems like:
- Setting employees up with the necessary equipment and tools
- Standardizing internal and external communication across the company
- Guaranteeing data protection outside of the office
- Establishing a time-tracking method for different departments
This is where an airtight remote work policy comes into play. A remote work policy and formal guidance play a critical role in establishing company norms, eliminating guesswork and communicating expectations to both tenured and new employees. Without a set remote work policy, employees are left wondering to what extent the company, or their direct manager, expects remote work to resemble in-office life. Not only can this lead to miscommunication between employees and management, it inevitably leads to some employees’ perception that they are treated differently than their peers as managers fill the remote work policy void with their own directives.
In this blog post, you're going to learn:
- Why a remote work policy is important
- Everything you should include in your remote work policy
- How to create one for your company in less than 10 minutes
Let's get started!
COVID-19 and the Rise of Remote Work
The COVID-19 coronavirus is forcing companies who have resisted the future of work to adapt to a remote work environment with little time to prepare. With countries around the world closing nonessential businesses, those without a remote work policy are left exposed to security risks and workflow inefficiencies.
What Is a Remote Work Policy?
A remote work policy is a set of guidelines and boundaries that outlines how and when employees can work from home or any other remote location. These remote working policies communicate the best practices to follow, which help the company maintain order and set clear expectations.
Why Is a Remote Work Policy Important?
For starters, research shows that a work-from-home policy can reduce your employee turnover by 50%! According to Gallup, the average cost of replacing an employee ranges from one-half to two times their annual salary. In other words, having a remote work policy is simply good business.
How to Make a Remote Work Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic in 7 Steps
COVID-19 has created a lot of fear and confusion for employees and businesses around the world. With a remote work policy in place, you can help your workforce adapt to a new way of working while setting clear guidelines on how to respond to others and what steps to follow to keep data safe.
1. Determine working hours for employees
A remote work policy needs to define availability expectations and working hours. Without it, your employees will have odd work hours and managers will be unable to get in contact with team members at crucial times.
Make sure your policy answers the following questions:
- How many hours do remote employees need to work each day or week?
- Between what hours are employees expected to be online?
- Do employees need to adhere to specific time zones based on geographic priorities?
- Is there a strict or flexible work schedule?
- How and where should employees notify colleagues if they are unable to meet typical availability requirements?
On the productivity front, defining working hours will drive work efficiency. Why? Because having defined work days will create a sense of urgency in your employee’s workweeks.
What's more, your employees will have well-organized workweeks, so they'll start (and end) their workdays at consistent times. And this means a healthy work-life balance, better mental health, and even a consistent sleep schedule (an important element of a productive employees workweek).
2. Create an attendance policy
For hourly employees and contractors, you also need a remote work policy that defines absenteeism as well as how you expect employees to track their hours. Make sure to create separate attendance policies for part-time and full-time employees, if necessary. With many employers allowing for flexible work arrangements due to COVID-19, your remote work attendance policy should include the following:
- Definition of attendance (e.g., days or number of hours each week)
- Method for tracking attendance (e.g., time-tracking software)
- How to request time off for vacation, short-term disability, etc.
- Procedures for unplanned time off or unexcused absences
3. Secure your data
According to Shred-it's State of the Industry Report, 86% of C-level executives are wary of remote work because it creates a higher risk of a data breach. When you take employees out of offices with secure networks, you need to factor in security threats and data protection.
Use your work-from-home policy to address:
- Protocols for accessing, changing and transmitting documents
- How and when a public Wi-Fi connection is allowed
- How to access a VPN or another form of security when accessing confidential data
- Where employees are allowed and not allowed to take confidential calls and meetings
- Protocol for when there has been a security breach
- Preferred antivirus software (if not centrally managed)
4. Determine how you will track productivity
Time tracking helps you communicate and document what you expect from remote employees. Your work-from-home policy needs to mention the following:
- Employees working overtime: State the max amount of hours an individual can work per week without prior authorization. This will help you control unplanned costs.
- Productivity tracking: Specify how you are going to track performance, whether it's time spent on the project, quota, number of cases resolved or client interactions.
5. Create clear communication guidelines
When you can't meet your team members in person, company policies around communication and collaboration are essential. Since employees can no longer talk to one another as easily as they could around the office, you need to standardize communication to prevent it from becoming messy.
When creating your policy, consider the following:
- What types of communication tools will work best in different situations (e.g., team meetings, onboarding new clients, etc.)
- Which platform employees can use for team collaboration and virtual water cooler talk
- Rules around expected response times
- Establish when, where and how meetings will take place
6. List all the equipment requirements
A remote workforce needs specific equipment to complete their work. Whether it's a reliable Wi-Fi connection or a laptop, employees need to know what equipment the company is willing to offer and what they need to provide for their home offices.
Here are some questions your policy needs to answer:
- Are workers expected to provide any equipment?
- What items will the company supply?
- Does the internet speed need to meet a certain requirement?
- How do employees request remote support?
- What expenses qualify for reimbursement?
- What software is required, and who will pay for it?
- Does the IT team need access to the equipment to install antivirus software?
7. Discuss the termination procedure
The termination section of your remote work policy outlines what happens when a remote work agreement comes to an end. It should state the steps that need to happen during the employee's exit. For example:
- Data removal
- Equipment return
- Removing access to files and communication channels
- Interview with Human Resources
Setting Your Remote Workers Up With the Right Tools
While it can feel challenging to switch to a remote model overnight, there are plenty of remote-team tools that will help you simplify the process and make it easier to manage your team and implement your teleconferencing policy.
While a quick chat on Microsoft Teams or Slack is suitable for some communication needs, video calls are the next best thing when you can't all be in the same room. Virtual events, virtual meetings, client calls, and remote presentations are a big part of working online and communicating with teams and customers.
Invest in a reliable and secure video conferencing tool like Lifesize to maintain face-to-face contact and make telecommuting as effective as possible.
The biggest challenge for remote teams is communication. Phone calls often aren’t ideal for teams separated by multiple time zones, and email threads can quickly end up a mess without clear ownership or actions.
Dedicated instant messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, like the integrated chat within your video conferencing software, are a great way to keep teams connected while keeping data safe and secure. Like most enterprise-grade tools, these apps are designed for ongoing conversations among multiple people and help keep inbox overwhelm to a minimum while allowing you to check-in on team members with ease.
A way to safely share and find information is an important remote collaboration tool. Popular tools like Microsoft OneDrive, SharePoint, Box or Google Drive are widely used cloud storage platforms built specifically for keeping your files in a secure and centralized location. Files are also synced across devices so you can access them from anywhere.
It's no easy task staying on top of your own to-do list as well as your teams’ lists of projects. When you switch to a remote work arrangement, you may need to support your decision with an agile management tool designed to help you and your team track who is doing what and the status of ongoing projects. This not only helps you keep tasks on track, it provides stakeholders a single destination for monitoring the progress of various initiatives.
Some people think that working from home means you don't need to watch the clock as closely when, in reality, the opposite is true. The habit of time tracking is crucial for remote teams. Whether you need to track billable hours for a client or you want to analyze how long specific tasks take to complete, a time management tool keeps remote teams productive.
Some of the top time trackers for full-time remote employees are:
- Time Doctor
A Sample Remote Work Policy Template
Your remote work policy needs to outline everything you expect from your team. It should go into detail about expectations around working hours, cybersecurity and communication. Here is a remote work policy template you can tailor to your company's needs and send out to your employees.
Remote Work Policy:
[Enter Company Name]
[Enter Company Address]
1. Statement of Purpose
The purpose of the remote work policy
Include who and what the policy covers
3. Rules and Expectations
List duties, responsibilities and obligations
4. Workspace and Equipment
Include equipment provided by the employer, equipment supplied by the employee and workplace expectations
Outline methods and expected availability for online and offline communication
List security protocols and requirements
List confidentiality guidelines for all employees
List of approved absences, documentation required, how to request time off and disciplinary procedures
Describe the procedure of what needs to happen during an employee's exit
Signed by: [Enter Employee Name, Signature and Date Signed]
Measuring the Success of Your Remote Work Policy
Your remote work policy is only as good as the business value it unlocks. When you can’t easily see what is occupying your employees’ time, it’s critical to provide formal guidance and a remote work policy that removes ambiguity and ensures requisite work gets done. If you find there are gaps in productivity or confusion among your teams, revisit the policy regularly to make sure all expectations are clearly defined and consistent with your values and culture. After all, the best remote work policy is one that works for both the company and your employees.