A remote work policy is a document that outlines the agreement between employers and employees on when and how they can work outside of the office.
COVID-19 might have made remote work a necessity for a short time (two years and counting), but many companies are opting to offer remote work for the long-haul for reasons like higher employee retention, better access to a diversified talent pool, and greater productivity.
However, it’s really important for companies to properly define their remote employee management processes, as they aren’t the same as office-based employee management. There are many critical elements that need to be defined when creating a remote workforce policy.
Let’s cover the main questions you’ll need to ask here, so you can stay two steps ahead
You’ve probably heard of businesses such as Automattic (the company behind WordPress) and GitLab that are fully-remote, with no office environment and 100% of employees working from wherever they choose.
Sounds great on paper, but not all companies will want to choose a fully-remote model, and in fact – many won’t be able to. That is why the hybrid model is also the most popular one, putting choice-first on the agenda rather than remote-first, and allowing workers to choose where they want to put in their hours.
However, when you’re creating your remote workforce policy, you first need to consider who can work outside of the office and how frequently. Define whether it’s up to the employee to decide their home/office balance, or whether they should get the manager's approval. Remember that these criteria will define your remote work model, so it’s critical to get it right.
Don’t forget to note whether working remotely will have an impact on salary and benefits, for example if you have a location-based pay scale, or if employees are currently benefiting from an office-based travel stipend.
Next, outline the expectations you have of your remote workers. Can they be flexible about the hours they work within a certain window, or do you want them available specifically between 9am and 5pm? Some companies set responsiveness rules that are similar to a Service Level Agreement, for example that emails will be replied to within 2-4 hours.
When you’re considering distributed teams, it’s important to think about varied time-zones, so you might want to be general and use terms such as “as quickly as possible” or “2-4 hours during your local working day.”
In the office, your employees benefit from equipment and technology – not only their computers and corporate cell phones, but also chairs and desks, conference room space, software licenses, and probably a few too many Nespresso pods. Different businesses have different policies for offering tools and tech, and your remote work policy is where it needs to be outlined.
Think about what technology you’re happy to provide and source, which equipment you’ll pay for as an expense but would like employees to purchase up-front. If relevant – consider how much you’re willing to offer as a home-working stipend which can cover extras like printers and ink cartridges. Some decisions can be the same as for in-office staff, Ex: providing company laptops, while others might need more discussion, such as who will pay for internet access or a dedicated phone line.
It's also important to think about technical support, as if a laptop breaks at home, your employee can’t simply walk it over to the IT desk. Do you expect employees to bring their devices into the office to be fixed, or are you happy to pay for servicing and maintenance local to their location?
Keeping employees engaged is an essential consideration from day one when managing remote teams. After all, you’re not just managing individuals, your goal should be to create an effective and cohesive culture.
Why not mark out in your remote work policy which communication tools are efficient and available for each scenario, and how often they should be used? For example, Slack is a great channel for continuous communication with colleagues throughout the day, and you could also mandate a weekly 1:1 with the employee’s manager via Zoom. This keeps lines of communication open and encourages regular interactions to build relationships.
Giving due thought to how you want to create and word your remote working policy is a smart move since it has become a demand coming from talented and skilled candidates.
Allowing employees to occasionally work from home, or hiring the one or two employees at a different location without defining your remote policy, may increase your company's compliance risk and negatively impact your culture.