Writing a Remote Work Policy: What You Need To Know
Defining your remote policies
There are lots of different words used, often interchangably, when talking about remote work: Flexible working, working from home, flexible schedule, telecommuting. You need to identify what you’re creating a policy for – are you intending to have a flexible remote work policy which will enable employees to make choices about where, how and when they work, or are you looking to create a more structured remote work policy which lays out certain parameters and boundaries, for your remote working. Or, perhaps you’re an office based business which wants to introduce a remote-friendly policy, which means you’re prepared to allow a degree of flexible working but it’s not your default modus operandi. Before you can start to establish what your rules, boundaries and parameters are, you need to define your overall vision and goals in order to know which approach will suit your business best. You also need to establish who your remote work policy will cover – is it intended for all employees, or is only a part of your business able to transition to remote? If you are beginning to build a distributed team, with members across the globe – will your policies apply to them too and if so, how might you need to change and adapt your policy, to cover multiple time-zones etc. How will your policy work for different teams – will you have the same core policies for everyone, and each team then have some variation within them?
Defining your remote work policies is a two-way street – you need to understand what employees want and need, as well as the business needs and it’s important not to make assumptions about their requirements, as they will vary considerably between individuals and teams. Start with a survey tool, like survey monkey, to ascertain what’s important to your employees – make sure you allow for some free-form answers aswell as qualitative data, to capture the finer nuances of employee requirements. Questions might include; whether they are able to work remotely, what equipment they need, how they feel about being managed remotely, how often they might like to come into the office, whether they might move house if a remote or hybrid model is implemented, why remote is or isn’t a desirable choice for them. Make sure to ask managers whether they feel confident managing their team remotely, and what they need to do so effectively
For some remote work policies, flexibility is the key to why they were created in the first place and sits at the heart of the policy itself. For others, flexibility is acceptable to a degree, but too much flex will bend the business to breaking point – for example, support staff offering customer service support need to be available at set and pre-defined hours. There’s potential for flexibility in how these hours are covered, but clarity is needed for team members to ensure that core hours are covered. Being clear on what’s “allowed” within your remote work policies is key and it comes back in part to the survey you started with – what do your staff need and want, what does the businss need and want – now define what needs to be set in stone and what can be flexible, to best achieve satisfaction for all parties.
Tech support, hardware and furniture provisions
Define what employees will need to work remotely and define what the employer will provide. Some companies choose to offer a stipend, allowing staff to select their own furniture etc to suit their needs, others have furniture contractors deliver items to their employees homes – we talked about the pros and cons of both options here. What tech are you providing and what will they provide themselves.
Meetings and communication
With in-office working, there is often very little documentation around how employees are expected to communicate – it’s automatically presumed that they and their managers will help define the most appropriate comms for them to do their job; meeting as needed, emailing as needed, checking in with colleagues as needed etc. For remote work, it’s much more important to document processes, frameworks and approach more clearly so that expectations are clearly set – since there isn’t the ability to just “soak up” how things are done. We recommend having a written section in your remote work policy which clearly lays out which tools and technologies you’re providing, and the communication channels and approach to be used – there should be bespoke and specified minimum frequency check-ins between managers and their staff, the tools used to update progress should be specified, if there is flexibility on hours worked but specificity on overlap times required, this should be specified. If you expect employees to always be camera-on for meetings, make it a part of your remote work policy. Document how remote employees will be supported, nurtured, checked-in on. Document how employees will be trained and onboarded. If you have meetings that combine in-office staff with remote workers, how should these be conducted. Every part of the how, of how you work remotely should be laid out so that employees are really clear on where they stand and what’s expected. If you later agree to change things, that’s fine, but a key mistake in working remotely is allowing too much flex, all at once, which creates frustration and confusion because employees can’t get their jobs done effectively, when everyone is only looking after number 1.
Consider re-defining some work processes
Working remotely is different to working in an office and trying to use an office paradigm, when working remotely, can cause frustration and a drop in productivity. Re-look at your work processes and think about whether they need to adapt to remote – for example, many fully remote companies have specific days or half days reserved for meetings-time, and time reserved for completing work – defining specific days for specific purposes can help lump similar tasks together, which makes better use of our productivity as we aren’t having to switch from one thing to another constantly. Similarly, most remote workers find switching to asynchronous communication rather than synchronous is more effective in communicating between teams – but it needs to be a deliberate, intentional switch that is documented and agreed, not just a back-door introduction of a messaging tool.
Boundaries, boundaries boundaries
It used to be location, location, location – nowadays, it’s less about where you are and more about knowing where you shouldn’t be! If your remote work allows for flexible working hours, be careful to ensure you have the means to know when employees are working or not working, and that you know they’re not burning themselves out. Conversely, you’ll want to know they are actually working when they should be. Remote working puts trust, transparency and empowerment centre stage but that starts with clarity around expectations from you, the employer.You’ll likely need to agree some tech and processes that help you know who is doing what and when, who is clocked in and out, what time zones and patterns your team are working to etc.
Many successful fully remote companies like Gitlab, make all their documentation completely visible to employees – they have an entire handbook dedicated to helping new employees get onboarded, and to perpetuating the culture they’ve created. Putting your remote work policies together will be a collaborative and iterative process – find the right tech platform to share the creation of your policy and create invested managers who are responsible for monitoring reality against principles, so that you can make adjustments as necessary.
We’ll be sharing remote work policy templates with you in the New Year. Sign up to our newsletter to stay updated.