- Create a telecommuting policy that is comprehensive and specific about details like eligibility, frequency, productivity, expectations and requirements, power structure, cybersecurity, and communication methods.
- Have a clear plan in place for addressing telecommuting policy violations, and enforce your telecommuting policies fairly.
- Use productivity applications, software and frequent employee feedback to determine the success of your policy.
- This article is for business owners and managers who want to create a successful telecommuting policy for their remote or hybrid workforce.
Because there has been a major increase in people working from home since the pandemic, having an effective telecommuting policy is more important than ever. And now, after many companies have settled on permanent remote or hybrid workplaces, it's essential to have policies that clearly outline these working arrangements. These policies will give employees a sense of what is and isn't acceptable and can help everyone stay efficient and productive.
"Allowing people to work from home … attracts and retains top talent in a competitive market," Brian Shapland, director of sales for Ancillary & Shared Spaces, told Business News Daily. "But there are factors to consider when giving your team the green light to work outside the office, like the impact it may have on employee engagement, team connectivity and the vibrancy of your office culture."
The option to work outside the office is a dream come true for many employees who want better work-life balance. But without guidelines, managing remote employees can quickly become a boss's worst nightmare. As your company grows, it's a good idea to put a formal telecommuting program in place to help you keep track of employees who work remotely and ensure everyone is performing at their peak, regardless of location.
Why is a telecommuting policy important?
Working from home is the future of work. In fact, Gallup found that 45% of full-time U.S. employees spend at least some time working remotely, and roughly 60% of workers listed productivity as one of the top reasons they prefer hybrid or remote work.
Without a clear telecommuting policy, though, companies can flounder. Working from anywhere, whether at an office or at home, provides room for distraction. By spelling out your work-from-home policy, you can define exactly what's expected of employees.
Did you know? Gallup found that 6 in 10 workers prefer their employer to establish clear telecommuting guidelines.
How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted telecommuting
While working from home used to be a luxury that very few were afforded, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed that. Companies were forced to abruptly switch to a remote workforce to keep their employees safe. Soon after, many realized just how beneficial telecommuting was.
In the survey mentioned above, Gallup found that many employees preferred telecommuting because it was better for their well-being, it allowed them more flexibility, they had fewer distractions, they felt more productive and they saved time not having to commute. Employees found these benefits to be so favorable that 94% of employees surveyed prefer some form of remote (49%) or hybrid (45%) work arrangement.
The aftermath of the pandemic has also resulted in workers being more selective about which companies they work for. Although competitive salary is still important, the type of employee benefits you offer can make a major difference in your ability to attract and retain employees. The combination of 10.4 million job openings and what has been coined "the Great Resignation" has forced employers to think critically about which benefits they offer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Based on general employee sentiment, it is essential for companies to offer some form of flexible work arrangements, when possible.
Did you know? Gallup found that 37% of remote workers and 19% of hybrid workers would be "extremely" likely to look for another job if their employer removed the option to work from home.
How to create a telecommuting policy
An effective telecommuting policy not only lays out expectations, but it also outlines tools, defines which positions are eligible and remains flexible for future adjustments. If you're having trouble getting started with your telecommuting policy, here's a list of things to include:
- Define which positions are eligible to work from home. Also outline who makes these decisions, what the official policy is (e.g., how many days per week) and how remote work affects productivity.
- Be specific about the policy. Whatever your work-from-home policy is, make sure you're specific. Be clear about expectations and requirements.
- Create an effective power structure. Entrust managers to set benchmarks for their employees who are working from home. When will they check in? Will they provide a list of tasks completed at the end of each day or week? If your company is small enough, you can set these procedures for your whole company. Either way, make sure you are specific and transparent with your organization.
- Outline which tools your employees should use. Your workers will need productivity apps, communication apps and other tools. Make sure you define which tools they should be using, how they should be using them and why they are important.
- Be open. If you're new to remote work, listen to feedback from your employees so you can find an effective strategy for all of your workers.
Important considerations when crafting a telecommuting policy
The first thing any employer needs to consider when deciding on a remote work policy is whether the employees' attitudes, work ethics and personalities align with the company's expectations of telecommuting. Working from home sounds like a nice perk in theory, but not everyone can be productive when the boss isn't down the hall to check on them.
"Managers should accommodate on a case-by-case basis to do what's best for the company, its team members and the project at hand," said Phil Shawe, co-founder and CEO of translation technology company TransPerfect.
Kim Davis, board member and former executive vice president and chief HR officer at benefits broker NFP, advised setting eligibility guidelines. These can include the nature of the position, how long a person has been at the company or in their current role, past job performance, and how frequently a staff member can telecommute.
2. Expectations for work hours
For geographically dispersed teams, or in cases where remote work helps accommodate family schedules and obligations, official "business hours" may vary from person to person. Employers need to trust their telecommuters and give them the freedom to do their jobs in a way that works for them. However, regardless of their work hours, employees need to be held accountable for their assigned jobs by adhering to company expectations.
"Set clear expectations with employees," Shapland said. "Remote workers should be available during office hours, must meet deadlines and complete projects with excellence, and maintain communication with their manager and co-workers. Workers who do not meet these expectations risk losing the trust of leadership and sidelining their team."
Tip: If it works for your business, consider offering benefits like flexible scheduling and compressed work schedules. If you do, be sure to include details about these benefits in your telecommuting policy.
"It is important to provide very specific guidelines and policies for employees to review and acknowledge [regarding] the telecommuting arrangement," Davis added. "A quiet and private workspace is still needed [in the home], and work hours require full attention and dedication – no watching the kids while trying to work."
3. Equipment and cybersecurity
An often-overlooked element of remote work is the security of the corporate data workers are accessing outside of the secure office network. Hunter Hoffmann, senior vice president of global marketing and communications at AmTrust Financial Services, recommended monitoring the devices and programs employees use when they work from home, and setting up safeguards against any potential hacks or breaches. It's also helpful to educate employees on how to set up a secure home office. [Looking for employee monitoring software to track employee productivity and security? Check out our picks for the best employee monitoring software on the market.]
"Enabling employees to work remotely opens up the likelihood that they'll use their work devices to communicate via unsecured public networks," Hoffmann said. "Password-protect all business devices, [and] make sure that data going out from [those devices] is encrypted. Keep a current inventory of all devices, and make sure each one has its GPS tracking turned on. Additionally, install technology to remotely wipe data from any device that has been lost or stolen."
Davis added that if company-issued devices are taken home for remote work, employees should be aware that the equipment and any programs on them are to be used only for work-related purposes.
4. Communication methods
In many offices, instant messaging and chat services have become the communication method of choice due to their ease of use and convenience. It makes sense to have the whole team connect with each other through these platforms for quick discussions and collaboration, but employees who aren't physically there need the benefits of face time, like their in-office colleagues have. Therefore, frequent phone calls and video conferences should be part of your routine with remote workers to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation via text-based communication.
Tip: Video conferences are beneficial only when they are used strategically. Follow these 10 tips to host a productive video conference.
With the appropriate use of communications technology, companies can ensure their culture remains intact, even with full-time telecommuters. As a full-time telecommuter, Reid Travis, global key account executive at Ultra Fiberglass Systems, said that video-integrated chat programs have been a lifeline for his company's culture. Sharing photos of office events, setting up a dedicated "fun talk" chat, and having remote team members participate in chats and meetings have all helped to make the staff feel more connected.
"It's easy to feel disengaged and no longer included [as a telecommuter]," Travis said. "Make sure the person still feels like part of the team – it feeds your overall productivity [and makes] you feel like you're making strides and impacts, even from far away."
5. Policy abuse
Although you hope that your employees will be respectful and accountable when taking advantage of your remote work policy, some people may abuse it. It's wise to explicitly state that remote work is a privilege that can be revoked if it's discovered that an employee is not meeting their expectations while working outside the office.
You can eliminate any abuse of work-from-home policies by measuring at both the individual and team levels, holding everyone accountable for their results, said Shawe.
"It is management's job to set tough yet achievable goals ... for each employee, regardless of where they sit around the globe," he said. "If [your] internal systems ... measure relevant information and transform that information into appropriate, digestible and shared performance metrics, the business and its staff will thrive whether operating in [the] real world or in the virtual world."
How to measure the success of a remote work policy
This is arguably the most important part of creating a new teleworking policy or adjusting an existing one. Make sure you're using productivity applications and software that give you an at-a-glance view of your whole team. Nail down where your team is succeeding and where productivity could be increased. Determining the success of your telecommuting policy means thinking critically about all areas of your business's productivity.
Another way to determine the success of your policy is to regularly check in with your team and assess how the policy is being received. Oftentimes, remote employees can feel isolated from the rest of the company. Engage with remote workers and managers. Ask questions about the policy and productivity. These are all ways to start assessing your telecommuting policy and determine whether it needs to be adjusted.
Resources for managing remote workers
Looking for additional resources to help you implement and manage a remote workforce? Check out these:
- U.S. General Services Administration Resources for Managing Teleworkers
- University of Mary Washington Human Resources Telework Policy and Procedures
- Society for Human Resource Management Telecommuting Policy and Procedure
Nicole Fallon and Skye Schooley contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.