How employers can create a work-from-home policy

For years, companies have regarded a work-from-home policy as optional. But mandatory stay-at-home orders around the country have made a strong work-from-home policy something every employer needs right away.

A work-from-home policy ensures your organization functions well when your team has to work remotely, but when everyone does return to the office, your team will want the flexibility to work from home at least sometimes. A generous work-from-home policy is important to attracting and retaining top talent.

Here are the elements necessary for an effective work-from-home policy for your organization.

4 essential elements of a work-from-home policy

An employee eligibility statement 

The first step is to identify which employees are eligible by determining which roles in your organization can be done from home. “There are certain types of jobs that really lend themselves to working from home. Others are better suited to an office environment where you can walk up to people, get answers to questions, and have a physical connection,” says Brandon Riggs, senior consultant at Perceptyx

Organizations may also consider other factors when determining eligibility, including

  • Position
  • Salaried vs hourly employees
  • Time spent at the company
  • Some type of performance metric

Once you’ve decided which employees are eligible to work from home, you need to create a process for employees to apply to work from home. Designate someone to be responsible for overseeing and approving the requests.

Expectations for working from home

Establishing some ground rules is key to a work-from-home policy. “It’s really important to have clear priorities and expectations in any situation where people aren’t having as much natural face-to-face contact,” says Abby Serino, account executive at ClearPoint Strategy.

The specifics will vary based on the company and the position, but make sure there are clear expectations about availability, communication, and performance.

Time and performance 

Performance tracking varies widely by company, industry, and position. Without a shared office, managers can’t see how employees spend their day, so they need a way to ensure employees are getting their work done.

For some positions, this will require putting in a certain amount of time and having a digital process to track that time. For others, it will mean clear benchmarks, goals, or deliverables to be reached within a certain time period.

Communication and availability 

Set realistic expectations for communication and availability. Be mindful that at-home work naturally means employees aren’t always available for instant interaction.

For example, you may want employees to be available for meetings at certain times, respond to communications within a specified timeframe, or have working hours that coincide with (or at least overlap with) a designated time period. Set working hours are especially important for hybrid teams, where some employees work from an office, and for customer-facing positions.

It’s important to understand that remote workers won’t communicate at the same speed as workers who share an office. “As a manager, you have to be respectful of how you communicate with your team when they’re working remotely. Rather than ‘I need something right now,’ you have to get used to asynchronous communication. It’s a mental shift, but a critical one,” says Lance Cummins, president of remote company Nectafy.

When it comes to communication and availability, Cummins emphasizes trust. Lay out employees’ goals, then allow them the time and focus they need to get work done.

Professionalism and personal presentation 

Employees should still be expected to present themselves professionally, especially if the job requires interacting with people outside the company. “Everybody makes jokes about working in your pajamas, but all the remote workers I know understand that when we’re at work, we’re on, and we’re going to look professional,” says Cummins.

Other than maintaining a certain level of personal grooming, professionalism standards for remote workers may include use of a proper webcam and neutral background while on client calls. Naturally, nobody is allowed to drink while working, and employees must always use appropriate language.

Remote working tools

“You need to give people what they need to do their jobs, but in large part it’s determined by company culture,” says Riggs.

Step one is determining which technology tools are necessary for your team to work at home. At minimum, you’ll need some type of collaboration software, video conferencing software, and project management software.

While it’s reasonable to expect workers to provide their own workspace, many organizations choose to provide team members with a laptop as well as hardware accessories (such as an external monitor), for both security and performance reasons.

Provide technical support for remote workers, if that’s something you would do in the office. “Working from home can already be isolating, and technical problems can be frustrating. So if an employee is having a technical problem, I’ve found the best thing is to have someone jump on a video call with them. Don’t just hide behind a ticketing system,” says Cummins.

Technology security standards

Work with your IT department to establish a security policy for remote workers. Expand your data and network security policies to cover remote workers, including policies about antivirus software, firewalls, encryption, remote access and wiping, and what equipment is allowed.

It’s a good idea for all companies to require strong passwords, to use a company password management solution for all company accounts, and to require employees to use a virtual private network (VPN), especially when working from public places like coffee shops.

Creating a good work-from-home policy requires balancing adaptations from onsite policies and new policies specific to remote work. With some experimentation and a dash of common sense, organizations of all types can formulate policies that meet their standards while allowing workers to thrive.

Ex-nomad finally managed to settle. Been to 51 countries and counting. Doesn't like to be stuck in an office. Cappuccino aficionado.

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