Going Hybrid? How to Create an Effective Work-From-Home Policy.
When the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic required cities to adopt shelter-in-place orders, many employees had the opportunity to work from home for the first time. realizing they can successfully do their jobs without commuting into an office, now more workers than ever want to continue working remotely — a practice also referred to as telecommuting or telework. An April 2021 report on the future of work by Accenture indicates that 83 percent of workers surveyed prefer a hybrid work arrangement, where they spend at least some of their time working remotely, and 63 percent of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model, allowing employees to either work on site or at home.
As workers request more flexibility around where they work, companies are experimenting with creative ideas to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time. Whether your company is adopting a fully remote approach or pursuing a hybrid work model, failing to provide employees with specific work-from-home (WFH) guidelines can cause confusion and lead to inconsistent enforcement.
The more clarity you provide employees, the better the experience will be for everyone. Read on to learn what to include in a work-from-home policy statement and how you can best prepare your team for success.
Alexandria Jacobson contributed reporting to this story.
Implementing a Work-From-Home Policy
- Establish a clear purpose.
- Define the scope.
- Outline a process.
- Set admissible work-from-home days.
- Outline expectations clearly.
- Set technology support and requirements.
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How to Write a Work-From-Home Policy Statement
Before you put a plan into action, clearly outline your expectations for every employee. Include your work-from-home policy prominently within your employee handbook, and make sure every team member understands individual as well as team responsibilities. This is especially important if your teams are transitioning back from fully remote work to some remote work. Your employees should understand how their work arrangement is changing and why, especially if not all employees will be allowed to work from home.
Use the following guidelines of what to include in your policy statement to get started. Remember, as with any aspect of your company culture, your work-from-home policy should be thoughtfully adapted to your distinct workforce.
Establish a Clear Purpose
Clearly state what the purpose of this policy is, both in terms of the document itself and what you hope to accomplish by offering work-from-home opportunities. Use this as an opportunity to share what your company learned during the work-from-home experimental phase prompted by the pandemic, if applicable. Ultimately, your work-from-home policy should improve your employee value proposition (EVP), enhance your team members’ experience at your company and align with your core values. Convey the value of the policy as well as how the statement will be utilized going forward.
Define the Scope
Outline which roles within your organization are eligible for remote work. Take into account client-facing responsibilities, software limitations and cybersecurity risks. Clearly stipulate all role restrictions to mitigate unnecessary WFH requests and prevent frustration.
Additionally, if you would like to have more of a selective acceptance process based on individual suitability, describe the type of employee that is eligible to work from home: reliable, disciplined, autonomous, highly organized, etc. Finally, stipulate any tenure required for employees to take advantage of the work-from-home policy, whether that is three months or a full year.
Outline the Work-From-Home Request Process
How should employees go about requesting WFH time? In this section, lay out the entire process — is there a formal submission, or should employees have a conversation with their manager? Furthermore, do employees need to apply to be considered for the policy prior to submitting a request? Provide a step-by-step breakdown of what employees need to do in order to have the option of working from home and include links when necessary.
Explain the Approval Process
Explain who will be approving work-from-home requests and what each request will be evaluated on. Will requests be reviewed by individual managers, or will HR oversee the process? Managers and HR should use their best judgement in determining whether an employee would be successful working from home or not. However, they should also consider the following:
Does the employee need to interact with clients in order to do their job?
Is the employee privy to private information and data that, if accessed outside the office, could jeopardize our business or clients?
Is the employee’s home work environment distracting?
Will having the employee work remotely jeopardize your team’s success or make it difficult to communicate, collaborate or accomplish our objectives?
Does the employee need additional software or resources to complete their tasks outside of the office? If so, what are the associated costs?
Before you assume answers, talk with employees and allow them to address each question individually. If you know an employee has several children at home or has mentioned construction going on in their building, ask them how they will ensure they are still productive in a different working environment. Doing so will give everyone a fair evaluation and prevent unfair work-from-home limitations based on preconceived notions and unconscious biases.
Set Admissible Work-From-Home Days
In this section, explain when employees will be allowed to take advantage of the work-from-home policy. Will you provide weekly “WFH Wednesdays,” or will employees be able to work remotely as needed? Will there be team days when everyone is expected to be in the office?
If there are certain days of the year in which remote work is not permissible — for example, during the last week of the month for sales representatives or during all-hands meetings — state that clearly within the policy so there is no confusion when the dates roll around.
List Acceptable Reasons to Work From Home
If you are not providing all employees with WFH privileges, provide examples of acceptable reasons for a work-from-home request. Make it clear that the reasons listed do not guarantee approval; the employee must still submit a request to be considered.
Possible reasons an employee may need to work from home include:
Illness or disability status.
Appointments during the workday.
Unsafe weather conditions.
Other reasons discussed with and approved by supervisors.
Designate specific Working Hours
State whether employees are expected to be online during a specific time (for example, between 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and if time zones will impact working hours.
Alternatively, set the expectation that employees and managers will determine working hours on a case-by-case basis given the employee’s responsibilities and manager’s needs.
Outline Communication, Responsiveness and Availability Expectations
If employees are only occasionally working remotely, it is likely for non-work-related reasons, such as parenting, illness or work-life balance. As a result, their attention may be split between job responsibilities and outside factors.
To ensure everything gets accomplished that needs to, consider setting communication guidelines. Are employees expected to be online and available over the course of the entire workday, or just during predetermined core hours? How do you expect WFH employees to handle their meeting schedules when out of the office? Set clear expectations so employees can better coordinate their personal matters alongside their work responsibilities and be more productive throughout the day.
Moreover, set specific guidelines for responsiveness and preferred modes of communication. Doing so holds remote workers accountable and sets expectations for in-office employees. If WFH employees are not expected to respond immediately to requests from their colleagues, in-office team members will will know not to expect immediate responses, and consider going to someone else for time-sensitive questions.
Set Technology Support and Requirements
In some cases, employers may require that employees have access to specific technologies — software, internet speed, personal computers — in order to be eligible for remote work. Within your work-from-home policy, outline any prerequisites so employees can coordinate their tech needs ahead of time. Outline what technology the company will provide. Will you provide a monitor for both the company and the home office, or is the employee expected to bring equipment home when working remotely?
Additionally, outline the procedure in case an employee is experiencing technical difficulties while working from home. You likely have tech support onsite, but if a computer stalls or a program will not run, how do you expect WFH employees to respond when they cannot readily access your support team? Consider investing in remote desktop sharing software so tech support representatives can access an employee’s computer remotely.
Note Office Supplies and Maintenance Requirements
Apart from supplying employees’ technology and devices, explain whether or not you will furnish their home workspace with supplies or other amenities. From a legal standpoint, it is important to stipulate the employee’s maintenance responsibilities and which responsibilities you, as an employer, will assume.
For example, employees are most likely expected to maintain their office cleanliness and ensure it’s well-furnished as a constructive working environment. You may agree to supply team members with common office items, such as pens, notebooks and a stapler, in which case a monthly “office supply” stipend is a great perk.
Define Security Requirements
Because you cannot guarantee what kind of network your employees have access to at home, it is vital you clearly outline security expectations, such as not working on sensitive projects in public settings or on public Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, in order to make working from home a reality for your employees, you may need to offer security resources, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN), in order to protect your people and business.
Specifically outline expectations for employees in client-facing roles. Do they need to make calls from a private line? Are they allowed to work in public settings where private information can be overheard? Will you reimburse employees for voice and/or data charges incurred when making work-related calls? If you don’t explain how employees are supposed to conduct themselves when working on client projects, you cannot manage nor guarantee the security of your business.
Set Productivity and Performance Expectations
Employers are often wary of offering remote work opportunities for fear that employees will take advantage of the policy. However, data from a monthly survey conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, Stanford University and the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, showed that six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home than they expected to be. Be sure to manage expectations and reiterate that the work-from-home policy is truly a benefit by outlining productivity and performance standards.
Additionally, determine how you’ll track productivity. While time logs are an option, they are less indicative of performance than time spent on a task. Determine the specific metrics that are more relevant to your business and track those. Consider relying on managers to gauge productivity by tracking completed tasks, or utilizing a task-management platform to make work progress visible. There are a variety of project management tools that measure productivity or provide technology to help your employees better manage their time like ClickUp or Clockwise.
5 Tips to Make Your Work-From-Home Policy Successful
Once you are ready to roll out your new work-from-home policy, use the following five tips to ensure your team is set up for success.
Make Communication a Priority
It is no secret that things can get lost in translation over email or instant messaging. In order to ensure tasks are completed efficiently and accurately while employees are working from home, set communication expectations between managers and direct reports.
For example, consider having WFH employees start the day with a 15-minute call with their managers. This provides a more direct and clear communication channel where employees can get specific questions answered before diving into work and managers can adjust the individual’s priorities or deadlines without creating unnecessary confusion.
Additionally, invest in tools that can smooth out indirect communication over the course of the workday. Slack, Discord and Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are excellent tools for instant messaging, while Skype, Google Meet and Zoom enable face-to-face communication to bring WFH employees into the fold. To keep track of assignments and monitor productivity, consider implementing a task-management platform like Monday.com, Airtable or Asana.
Educate All Employees About the Policy
Even if your work-from-home policy only applies to some employees, clearly explain the rules and expectations to every team member before implementing it. This is vital to your team’s success. While WFH employees hold the majority of the responsibility for accomplishing work in a timely manner, in-office employees need to be aware of what is expected of their remote colleagues as well as their own responsibilities for keeping WFH workers in the loop.
Take extra time to review the policy with managers. Because some of their reports may be working from home more often, it is imperative that they understand the policy and how to uphold it.
Ask Your Employees For Their Input
We have laid out standard guidelines and practices for creating a work-from-home policy, but it is important that you develop a plan that is specifically tailored to your team and organization. Before finalizing the policy, be sure to have conducted surveys and discussions with your employees about what a fair remote-work policy should look like. . Gather feedback on employee productivity and performance metrics, communication expectations and approval process to determine what may be unrealistic for your current workforce.
Evaluate Your Policy Regularly
To ensure your work-from-home policy is as successful as can be, check in with your team and managers regularly after implementing the program. Has productivity increased? Are there major project delays? Are managers finding it difficult to keep tabs on their reports and direct their teams now that several employees are remote? Additionally, how do in-office employees feel about the policy — has it created any unforeseen obstacles to their success? Continually assess your plan, its effectiveness and your inclusivity efforts in order to create the best employee experience possible.
Lead With Trust
It is tempting to switch into micromanaging mode when several employees are working from home, but doing so will only create problems for your team. If you are adopting a longer-term work-from-home policy, you simply must trust your employees. If you do not trust them, do not implement the policy. In order for your work-from-home policy to be effective, senior and middle management need to trust their direct reports to uphold expectations and adhere to the rules. If employees fail to do so, act accordingly, whether that means adjusting the policy or addressing employee issues individually.
Attempting to micromanage from afar will aggravate employees and drive them away. Remote work is a huge perk that can significantly boost employee engagement levels when executed well. Trust your employees as much as you value them and they will reward you with their loyalty.
If your company already allowed remote work for some period of time, a continued ability to work from home will likely be extremely attractive to your employees. For attracting new talent, not only does WFH flexibility reinforce work-life balance, it also conveys to employees that they are truly valued as individuals. It demonstrates flexibility and empathy on behalf of the employer, two characteristics that will entice top talent and keep them around.
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