For the past few decades, since internet access became commonplace in homes and businesses, there's been a growing trend toward remote work options. It has come in the form of a variety of opportunities for people to earn money working online jobs, as well as through employers crafting remote work strategies to allow more of their workforce to telecommute. Although the shift has been gradual, it's touched every part of the economy.
In fact, by 2017, Gallup polling indicated that 43% of American workers spent all or part of their time working remotely, and that number was rising every year. Now, amidst the sudden economic changes wrought by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, those remote workers are no longer in the minority. The situation has forced the vast majority of businesses to make remote work an emergency stopgap to keep their employees going as they remain under stay-at-home orders to fight the spreading disease.
The only remaining question is if the situation will snap back to the pre-pandemic status quo once the danger has passed. Given the fact that an estimated 81% of workers expressed an interest in working remotely before the crisis, that seems doubtful. That means businesses need to start crafting a smart, workable remote work policy they can put into effect as a permanent measure when the economy returns to normal. To help, here are the six core features that every effective remote work policy must have:
1. Clear eligibility requirements
One of the common problems businesses encounter when beginning a remote work program is determining which workers will be allowed to work remotely and which won't. Failure to delineate that in the remote work policy itself is a recipe for disaster. When clear guidelines on the matter aren't in the remote work policy, employees are apt to believe that the decision is at their manager's discretion, which can cause unnecessary conflict among departments.
To avoid that, it's a good idea to conduct an organization-wide review to determine what roles are remote-compatible. When complete, this should result in a comprehensive listing of positions and a determination on eligibility. In practice, there's a good chance that some positions will be judged only partially compatible with a remote-work arrangement. Those positions can be included in the policy with specific on-site/off-site time splits that make sure every employee will have enough in-office time to fulfill their responsibilities.
2. Scheduling and availability
Even if an employee qualifies for remote work 100% of the time, that doesn't mean it would be beneficial for the business for them to set their own work hours. For that reason, the remote work policy should also spell out scheduling requirements and availability thresholds for remote workers to follow. For example, the business could determine that remote workers must maintain availability for specific portions of the standard workday, so they may remain in communication with others on their team. In situations with employees that need little interaction with others, they can be granted the flexibility to determine their own work hours, with whatever restrictions the business deems necessary. Either way, specific requirements on scheduling and availability must be a part of the remote work policy.
Making scheduling specifics part of the policy is also important because it helps to govern hiring requirements for new employees. Erik Kos, owner of the SimplePassiveIncomeSolutions, says that "Allowing remote work opens up the pool of available workers for businesses. They have to know, though, that workers who prefer remote jobs tend to have schedule restrictions due to other work and family obligations. Having set scheduling requirements for every job type in their remote work policy screens out applicants that won't be a good fit for each open position, and ultimately saves the business time and money." It's a dimension of a new remote work policy that many businesses fail to consider, since they have little experience in hiring employees to work under such arrangements.
3. Employer-provided equipment
Depending on the nature of the business, it might be necessary to furnish remote employees with company-owned equipment that's required for them to do their job. The remote work policy should establish a mechanism for provisioning and tracking such equipment, as well as lay out the employee's responsibility to care for it.
Getting this part of a remote work policy right plays an outsize role in making sure that company assets and data remain safe while employees work off-site. It's something the business should think through with great care—in collaboration with its IT team—before setting anything in stone. With the cybersecurity risks associated with remote workers greater than ever before, it's a policy decision that could affect the very survival of the business.
4. Productivity thresholds
Although repeated studies have shown remote workers to be more productive than their in-office counterparts, a good remote work policy should still contain productivity standards for employees to meet. Whatever productivity measures are to be used to judge remote employees' performance should be listed in detail in the remote policy. The policy should also spell out how the monitoring of productivity will take place. That serves to eliminate any ambiguity in terms of expected performance.
For example, if the productivity measure for a salesperson working remotely is the number of customers contacted per workday, the policy should specify that a business-provided phone or VoIP setup be used to facilitate performance monitoring. That way, both sides know what's expected and there's less of a chance that a dispute will occur afterward. Of course, having performance metrics isn't just sound remote work policy, it's also necessary should the need arise to invoke an employee discipline or termination process.
5. Remote work revocation
Another key provision that must be in any sound remote work policy is a clause that specifies that the business has the right to terminate remote work privileges at any time and for any reason. This is critical because the ability to work from home is seen by many employees as a part of their overall compensation, and they don't always acknowledge the business's right to take it away.
This can lead to acrimony when the company's needs change and they require a remote employee to shift to an in-office role. By making the situation clear at the outset, the business can extend the option to work remotely to any qualified employee without fear of losing control of the situation. Then, if the circumstances of the work, the business, or the employee change, so too can their working arrangements without the move being seen as punitive or otherwise inappropriate.
6. Confidentiality requirements
A major risk associated with businesses allowing remote work is the fact that they lose physical control over the environment the employee will work in. That means they won't have any way to guarantee that company trade secrets and other intellectual property won't be exposed to prying eyes. When and where the employee chooses to work has a direct impact on how well they'll be able to maintain the confidentiality of any sensitive information they're working with.
Now, one solution to that is to include a provision that provides environment guidelines for remote workers. The company could, for instance, require a home workspace that's pre-approved before remote work commences. The problem is, there's no easy way to guarantee that the employee will always use that space when they're working.
For that reason, it's a better option to put the responsibility on the employee to maintain confidentiality no matter where they choose to work. The remote policy should include specific confidentiality requirements and a list of best practices for every employee to follow. That way, if they elect to work from a café or some other public location, they know what steps they're expected to take to maintain adequate protection over company information, or any other protected materials.
Getting to work (from anywhere)
This isn't an exhaustive list of items to include in an effective remote work policy. The six points covered here, though, will guarantee that any business that includes them is off to a good start. Ultimately, the specific type of business and the work that will happen off-site must determine the overall scope and content of a remote work policy.
The current landscape may well be the perfect time for businesses to figure out what else to include in their remote work policy. It's providing daily lessons as to what works and what doesn't and should make it possible for almost any business to craft a forward-looking document that can go into effect when the health crisis abates. Since the needs and desires of the workforce seem to indicate that remote work will be a substantial feature of the future economy in any case, now may well be the perfect time for businesses to settle on a comprehensive remote work policy to carry them through the years to come.
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