Although we seem to be nearing the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the work landscape forever. One glaring difference is the setting. In the past year and a half, remote work has largely become the new norm for a number of industries.
And even as the danger begins to wane and some businesses have been opening their doors to employees, others are considering permanent or at least partial remote work situations. With the transition, employers need to take a hard look at their workplaces and consider what they should do to keep things running smoothly. That starts with a remote work policy.
What Is a Remote Work Policy?
A remote work policy is particular to the nature of off-site work circumstances. It outlines the guidelines and rules, structure, and other intricacies of a remote work environment. Employees are expected to read and understand these rules and best practices.
Why Is It Necessary?
Just as you craft a policy for the general work environment, it’s also necessary to do so for the remote scene. Because your original policy was probably created back when most or all employees worked on-site, a number of rules and circumstances have probably changed since then.
Working remotely is most likely new to many employees. That’s why it’s critical to outline responsibilities, structure, expectations, and more. This will go a long way in avoiding confusion, disagreements, and a lack of coordination.
How to Draft a Remote Work Policy
1. Consider the Roles that Can — and Can’t — Be Performed Remotely
Although many roles can be done completely remotely, that’s not true of all roles. Spend some time working with leadership and human resources (HR) to determine which jobs can feasibly be done from home. Also outline the types of responsibilities and tasks that you expect employees to accomplish remotely, as well as those that can be done partially or occasionally off-site.
Ensure that you outline the provisions for circumstances under which no one is able to come into the workplace safely and reasonably.
2. Address the Necessary Tools and Equipment
Make sure your team is well-equipped to do their jobs remotely. They will probably need certain tools and software to complete their work. This will vary among roles and departments, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to address each and every platform in your policy. However, you should be able to make a general statement about how you’ll provide the necessary equipment or reimburse employees for purchasing tools that are necessary for their work.
Describe how you’ll assist employees with setting up their devices, too. This will probably mean working with your in-house or outsourced IT team to determine how they can help with installation.
3. Work with Your Legal Department or a Consultant
Depending on the nature of your industry and business, there may be a number of legal concerns to consider when establishing a remote workplace. Work with your legal team or an external legal consultant to account for them in your remote work policy. For example, you’ll want to address disability-related concerns, ensuring that those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have the necessary accommodations.
Other issues to address in your policy include compliance, salary, and hourly rates — you must, of course, meet minimum wage regulations, no matter where people are working — and discrimination issues.
4. Account for Cybersecurity Concerns
Cybersecurity is always a concern, and when people are working from many different locations, it’s critical that you as an employer are able to oversee it. Again, in order to protect your entire organization from data breaches and other cybercrimes, you’ll need to work closely with an IT team to develop a plan, which you should include in your remote work policy.
You may, for instance, restrict employee access to certain programs and systems, granting it only on an as-needed basis. Consider installing firewalls and VPNs to further protect your data and company as a whole. Education is important, so you might make cybersecurity seminars mandatory in your policy.
5. Hammer Out a Schedule
Time often falls by the wayside when people are working remotely. You don’t want exhausted, overworked employees, though, so even if it seems like a positive thing that employees are working long hours, you should try to rein them in. In your policy, establish guidance on the hours people should be working.
You might, for instance, implement time-tracking systems, not only to ensure that people are being productive from home but also so they don’t work so hard that they succumb to burnout.
6. Make Time for Socializing
One of the biggest complaints about the remote work situation during the pandemic is that workers feel isolated. To help employees cope and improve morale, set times for socializing. That might mean virtual happy hours, informal Zoom get-togethers, and so on.
Include this in your remote work policy. While you shouldn’t make it a requirement — that will defeat the purpose — you should ask department heads to make time for these events and collaborate with their teams to come up with ideas for bonding and socializing, work-free.
7. Don’t Forget About On-Site Considerations
Even if your employees are largely working remotely, you can’t ignore the fact that you once had — and may still have — an on-site location to account for. In your policy, address how you will deal with your brick-and-mortar office or offices. Will you close them completely? Will you reduce space? Will you keep the entire space and make working from the office an option for your staff?
Whatever you decide, be sure to spell it out clearly, so there’s no confusion. Don’t forget to address safety measures if you allow employees to work on-site. For example, you might require those who wish to work in the office to show proof that they are vaccinated or wear PPE while doing so.
It’s become apparent that many workplaces will continue to run completely or partially remotely even after the pandemic. With this new normal, it’s critical to establish ground rules to align expectations and procedures and keep everyone safe and comfortable.