With a major increase in people working from home in the wake of the coronavirus, having an effective telecommuting policy is important now more than ever. Moving your office work to remote work can be difficult, but it's essential to stay efficient and productive during times of uncertainty. It's also a good opportunity to create a policy that can be used in the future, even after COVID-19 has waned.
"Allowing people to work from home … attracts and retains top talent in a competitive market," said Brian Shapland, general manager of office furniture company Turnstone. "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, 43% percent of employed Americans reportedly spend at least some time working remotely, and 77% of workers reported greater productivity outside of the office.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has been crucial in continuing business operations. Workers need to work from home, therefore, creating a telecommuting policy is important.
Without a 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.
How to create a telecommuting policy
An effective telecommuting policy not only lays out expectations, but it outlines tools, defines what 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 what positions are eligible to work from home. Also outline who makes these decisions, what the official policy is (i.e., how many days per week) and if productivity will change.
- 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 what tools your employees should use. Your workers will need productivity apps, communication apps and other tools. Make sure you define what 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 companywide 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 co-CEO of translation technology company TransPerfect.
Kim Davis, 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."
"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, head of U.S. communications at small business insurer Hiscox, recommended monitoring the devices and programs employees use when they work from home, and setting up safeguards against any potential hacks or breaches.
"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.
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, director of marketing at Pancheros Mexican Grill, said that video-integrated chat programs like Google Hangouts 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, there are, unfortunately, some people who 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 his or her 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 these 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 resources:
- 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 contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.