Planning to create a work from home policy for your company?
As COVID-19 has forced most businesses to go remote, creating an effective work from home policy is as important as ever.
It’s going to give your employees guidelines over what they’re expected to do and how they’re expected to do it. It’ll also give them some much-needed structure to help them navigate their work during this time.
To help you out, we’ll go over what a work from home policy is and outline what you need to include when drafting one for your company.
Table of contents
- What is a Work from Home Policy?
- The Upsides to Working from Home
- Potential Problems that Can Arise Working from Home
- What to Include in a Work from Home Policy
- How to Make a Work from Home Policy Successful
Let’s get started.
What is a work from home policy?
A work from home policy is the set of established norms and guidelines between an employee and their employer that cover the various aspects of working from home. This kind of policy is also sometimes called a remote work policy or a telecommuting policy.
Some companies opt for a formal document that both parties sign, while others broadcast a set of rough guidelines that their employees are expected to follow.
Why do you need a work from home policy?
Sometimes remote work becomes necessary due to unforeseen circumstances, like during the coronavirus pandemic. An effective work from home policy can help employees cope with this shift in working style.
The policy can help employees and employers alike by setting out clear expectations around topics like:
- Who can work from home
- Request and approval process for working from home
- Work hours
- Communication channels
- IT support and equipment
- Cybersecurity and confidentiality
- Physical work environment
- Grounds for termination
- Acknowledgement of receipt
(Don’t worry – we’ll be covering all these aspects in detail later on in the article)
The 4 upsides to working from home
Now that you know what a work from home policy is, you might be wondering:
“Why should I let my employees work from home in the first place?”
Sure, when COVID-19 struck, many companies were forced to adopt remote working.
But that isn’t the only reason you should consider letting your employees work from home.
Here are a few benefits to encouraging telecommuting:
A. Employees feel valued
When companies transition to telecommuting, employees and employers establish a higher level of trust.
You trust your remote workers to get their work done – even if they’re not in an office setting. That trust can make employees feel more valued as individuals and workers.
B. Work-life balance
This is the biggest benefit of working from home.
As you don’t have to worry about getting ready or your daily commute, you have a lot of extra time to focus on your non-work related activities. For example, you can work on that hobby of yours for an extra hour, or play with your kids or meal-prep for the upcoming week.
This is going to help your remote employees have a better work-life balance – which will lead them to being more satisfied with their jobs.
C. Increased productivity
Not everyone is productive from 9 AM to 5 PM.
Some people are early birds while others could be night owls.
The problem is, in a regular office setting, this doesn’t matter. You have to work during specified periods – irrespective of your energy levels.
When an employee works from home, they can choose to work during their most productive hours.
That can increase the overall productivity of the team as they’ll be able to get more work done when they’re feeling most productive. It can also improve the quality of employee work as they’re not working when they’re feeling distracted or drained.
D. Minimize missed days
During the COVID-19 health crisis, employees who work from home can stay home.
They won’t push themselves to come into work when they’re sick and risk infecting other workers. However, as they can still work from home, they won’t worry about losing their job.
Even when there isn’t a global coronavirus pandemic, this is an important benefit. In fact, a 2014 survey by PGi found that 69% of telecommuters reported lower absenteeism.
They can easily work around minor health setbacks – making up for fewer missed days in the long run.
3 potential problems that can arise working from home
Clearly, there are a number of important advantages to working from home.
But, like in any situation, there are few problems that can emerge for remote workers:
A. Feelings of isolation
Most of us are used to going into an office to work with a team member or to brainstorm with coworkers. Working from home might feel isolating as you’re missing that face-to-face social interaction – especially if you live by yourself.
When employees work from home, there are many distractions that might draw them away from their work. They can range from loud family members to tantalizing entertainment playing in the background.
This becomes especially difficult to cope with if telecommuters don’t have an established home office.
C. Communication errors
As you can’t interact with team members in-person, you’ll have to rely on apps like video-calling and messaging tools.
While they can help, you’ll still miss out on many aspects of regular conversation such as body language – which can lead to tons of miscommunications and misunderstandings. Plus as employees could be working across time-zones, coordination can be difficult.
What to include in a work from home policy
The goal of any work from home policy is to set clear expectations for employees. However, knowing what to cover can be difficult.
You’ll want to make sure your policy covers all the ways that telecommuting affects an employee’s workday.
So, what should you include?
1. Eligibility and scope
Right now, many companies have a vast majority of their employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The norm is, “Anyone who can, should.”
While this is feasible long term for some companies, it just isn’t for others.
Decide who is eligible to work from home, based on factors like:
- Individual employee personality
- Job duties
- Equipment needs
- Legal and tax implications
Consider if your full-time, part-time and hourly employees are eligible for teleworking.
For example, someone might not be able to take inventory at home, but a digital marketing specialist can do their job at home. Working from home works for some jobs, but not for others.
As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, these policies can also evolve to provide guidelines for returning to the office.
2. Request and approval process
Once your policy establishes who can work from home, it’s a good idea to lay out how they should go about requesting to work from home.
As many companies are now open to working from home even after the pandemic, it is essential to let employees know what they need to do in order to be allowed to do so.
For example, lay out if they need to get the day approved with human resources to keep things transparent. This is especially true for employees that only work at home part-time.
3. Work hours
Some companies have expectations for how many hours employees should work at home or for when employees need to be present.
Define if full-time employees must complete an 8 hour workday or if employees need to be available from X time to X time.
When companies have employees across different time zones, then these norms might be extra important to ensure that team members and coworkers overlap as necessary..
4. Productivity measures and time keeping guidelines
Managers want to ensure that their employees are getting their work done.
But when your employees aren’t in the same office as you, how do you do this?
You might set out specific productivity measures to keep remote workers on track such as specific deadlines or monitoring tools.
One common method is measuring the time spent on a task or project. If they’re spending too long on a task, it could be a sign that they’re either struggling with the task or are distracted.
It might also be a good idea to monitor the sites and apps that an employee accesses during their work day to ensure that they remain productive.
Luckily, productivity tools like Time Doctor help you manage all these employee productivity measures to ensure that your work gets done.
If you opt to use one of these tools, include clear expectations about its usage in your Remote Work policy.
5. Communication expectations
What tools do you want your employees to use to communicate with each other?
From video conferencing software like Zoom, to online chat tools like Slack, it’s a good idea to establish what you’ll use and specify norms around their use.
Want employees to use Slack for chatting? Specify that.
Then, they won’t find their chats spread across Google Hangouts and SMS instead. This makes for a more streamlined workflow where conversations are neatly ordered for future reference.
You also might expect employees to:
- Respond within a certain amount of time to certain kinds of communication.
- Be present in certain meetings, check-ins or phone calls.
- Acknowledge when they have received the details and instructions for a task.
If so, outline that in this section of your policy to ensure that everyone’s clear on your communication guidelines.
6. Equipment and IT support
A shift in the technology that employees use at work is a major issue when switching to remote work.
This is especially important during an emergency work from home situation, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employees might be working on personal computers or different equipment than what they’re used to, so technical issues are unavoidable. Consider utilizing a tool like Microsoft Remote Desktop to allow IT personnel to remotely access employees’ computers when there is an issue.
7. Physical work environment
Do you expect employees to work from a desk? Does your employees’ work environment have to meet certain standards?
While this may not apply to all companies, your company may need to comply with certain safety standards for their employees’ workspace.
For example, if you have an employee using many different pieces of electronic equipment, you may be obligated to ensure it is not a fire hazard in their home.
If so, specify what employees need to do in order to make their home offices meet those guidelines in this section. You can also outline what the ideal remote work environment should be like..
8. Cybersecurity and confidentiality
Cybersecurity is often a top concern for companies in all industries, but it becomes even more tricky to manage with employees at home.
A telecommuting policy should outline the necessary cybersecurity measures employees need to take. They might include only working on company computers or avoiding public WiFi.
If the company provides employees with encryption, antivirus or Virtual Private Network (VPN) software, be sure to mention that.
Although it might seem like remote employees might save money from skipping commutes, that isn’t always true. There are often other expenses that arise from accessing high speed internet connection to using office supplies at home.
If you plan to provide an allowance or reimbursement to offset these expenses for employees, clarify in writing how that will work in your remote work policy.
10. Grounds for termination
No one wants to have to let an employee go, but it’s still important to include a section on grounds for termination.
In this section of the policy, be explicit about what an employee shouldn’t be doing and what the potential implications could be. It could be excessive use of social media apps like LinkedIn or Facebook or missing multiple productivity measures that you’ve previously established.
11. Acknowledgement of receipt
As with any policy, it’s a good idea to keep track of if employees have read and understand it. Test out e-signature software to get your employees to sign the policy.
This is also important for legal reasons, especially in relation to the grounds for termination. An employee’s signature shows that they read, understand and have agreed to the terms you’ve specified.
How to make a work from home policy successful
Even the most well-thought-out policies can fail if they’re not well-executed.
Here are a few steps you can take to make the policy the best it can be:
A. Feedback from all sides
Get feedback on how the policy is working both for employees and managers. If they point out a place where it can improve, try to incorporate their ideas.
You’ll find yourself with a stronger, more employee-friendly policy. Additionally, when employees have a say in the policy, they’ll be more likely to follow it.
B. Emphasis on communication
No matter what you decide to include in your work from home policy, put communication in the spotlight. When working from home, communication can be one of the biggest strains, so try to ease these difficulties by focusing on your expectations around it.
Some general tips for improving communication include:
- Specify preferred means of communication
- Choose a tool for video conferencing, like Google Hangouts or Zoom.
- Establish where employees should chat, like via Slack.
- Note if daily or weekly meetings, check-ins or phone calls are mandatory.
- Lay out expected response times to messages or task assignments.
C. Lead with trust
Remote employees need to be trusted to ensure that they have the best environment to perform well. This applies whether they’ve been forced to work from home due to a pandemic, or are part of a pilot work from home.
High levels of trust are linked to better employee motivation.
When employees feel a sense of autonomy and control over their work, they’re more motivated to do it well.
A solid work from home policy can help your company navigate the issues usually associated with remote working.
It’ll also help you really benefit from the advantages of remote work and give your employees the support they need to perform well.
To get started, just go over each of the points we’ve listed here and you’ll craft an effective work from home policy in no time!
Carlo Borja is the Head of Online Marketing for Time Doctor, a time tracking software for remote teams. He is a full-time telecommuter, a digital nomad and a coffee junkie.