I’ve worked for companies that don’t allow employees to work from home, companies that enthusiastically encourage it, and everything else in between.
I have lived through the change in workplace culture from impressing my boss by coming in before them and staying later than them, to being available on email at all hours of the day, to finally being able to create a schedule that works for me without feeling guilty about it.
I used to think that working remotely could potentially exclude me from workplace conversations and important meetings, but now, employees of all levels and roles are finding creative ways to leverage technology and work from home. However, many companies and individuals are hesitant to make the switch. In fact, 64% of millennial and Gen Z hiring managers believe their company has the resources to support remote work, but 57% don’t have a remote work policy in place.
What is a remote work policy?
A remote work policy is an agreement that outlines all of the necessary information for employees that work in a location other than a company's office. These guidelines are set to enable remote employees to be successful while working outside of the designated company space.
A strong work from home policy is the foundation for a successful remote work force. If your company is new to this kind of initiative, it's imperative that you dedicate adequate time and resources to establish a policy that allows your employees to thrive while working in a different location.
How to create an effective remote work policy
If your company is considering making the switch to allowing remote work, make sure to have a rock solid remote work policy. While remote work and flexible jobs need to be founded on trust, creating a clear remote work policy will save you headaches later on.
Define the type of remote work policy you want to craft
No matter where they do work, remote work is defined by where they don’t work – in an office. Remote workers on virtual teams may travel to an office to visit with co-located team members on a regular basis, but they spend the majority of their working hours working separately from their coworkers outside of a traditional office setting.
Flexible work policy
Whether they work in an office or work remotely, employees with flexible schedules are able to set schedules that work best for them instead of being required to work during a set time period every day. With flexible work policies, an employee might work from home in the mornings, exercise at lunchtime, and then come into the office in the afternoons. Flexible work policies are characterized less by where employees work and more so by when they work, and if they’re able to change their schedules as it suits them.
Work from home policy
Working from home refers to employees telecommuting: working away from the office, usually from home, and connecting to the office through video conferencing software.
Working from home policies might set a certain number of days per week in-office employees can work from home, or they might be combined with flexible work policies that allow employees to work from home as needed depending on their schedules.
Working from home and remote work are often used as interchangeable terms, but where working from home is classified as working remotely, remote work doesn’t mean working from home. In general, working from home is done by employees who are based out of an office location whereas remote workers work outside of an office full-time.
Many remote work policies are a combination of these different employee policies. The questions below will help you think through which policies make the most sense for your team so you can clearly communicate and document the policy to your employees when you roll it out.
Figure out the specifics of your remote work policy
You and your employees will have a better relationship if everything is clearly defined in your remote work policy. Include what your company will both allow and provide for employees who choose to work remotely and whether or not you will have separate policies for employees who work from home 100% of the time versus those who have flexible work arrangements.
Here are some questions to consider when creating or updating your company’s remote work policy:
1. Which roles can work remotely?
For many roles, working remotely a few days a week doesn’t affect fellow teammates or the business operations in any way.
For example, a copywriter on a marketing team can join team meetings via video conference; can use Google Docs to create, share, and edit content; and only requires a laptop, WiFi connection, and headphones to be a productive part of the team.
For an HR recruiter who runs office tours for new employees and meets candidates for interviews, a remote work policy requires more coordination.
For product managers who have be on-call to meet with engineers, designers, and sales on a regular basis, remote work policies might need to be created with cross-functional collaboration in mind.
Consider each role, its responsibilities, required equipment, and scheduling needs when creating your policy.
2. How often are employees able to work remotely?
Are you opening up the policy to be used at employee discretion, or will there be a limited number of days per month when they’re able to work remotely? Will there be any blackout dates when you want all employees to be in the office together?
3. Which meetings should be remote vs. in-person?
Does an in-person or remote conversation make sense for the following meetings:
Any other meetings specific to your company or team
Think through which meetings, if any, will be required to take place in person, or if you’ll allow video conferencing meetings for these conversations.
4. Will remote employees be required to be online for a certain amount of time during the day?
Will remote employees be able to set their own schedules, or will they be required to be online and working for a specific number of hours each day? Many remote workers operate on flexible schedules, but you may want to build processes for changing schedules if you need coverage in different time zones, for example.
5. How will employees communicate when they work from home?
Will remote employees need to proactively request when they can work from home, or will it be up to their discretion each week? Determine how far in advance you’ll want notice of if your employees intend to work from home.
Consider things like commute issues, bad weather, or emergency situations (e.g. their pet has fallen ill, their child is on a scheduled or sudden day off from school, or they’ve picked up a sudden stomach bug overnight), and whether these situations will be allowed as last-minute work from home exceptions.
6. Will all employees be reimbursed for home office expenses, or only those employees who elect to work remotely full time?
Remote employees might want to invest in second monitors, stronger WiFi, noise-canceling headphones, or other tools that help them work productively from their home office.
So, you have to consider if your company budget allows for fully remote, partially-remote, or hybrid in-office and remote employees to take advantage of reimbursements for additional expenses related to creating an out-of-office work environment reflective of their in-office workstation.
7. Will certain roles only be offered to fully remote employees?
Will employees at a certain level be required to work out of the office, or will you open up your remote work policy to team managers, directors, and VPs?
At what level will employees be allowed (or disallowed) from working remotely? Do interns and team leads have the same work from home privileges?
8. How will international employees fit into your remote work policy?
If your company has the ability to hire international remote employees, how does this factor into your remote work policy? Work with your partners in finance, HR, and legal to determine the employment and tax ramifications of opening up a remote work policy in different states or countries. See if it benefits or harms your bottom line and work from there.
9. Will remote employees have different performance metrics?
If you have employees who work remotely, consider implementing a daily or weekly standup to track progress without micromanaging. Many performance management software tools offer features that ask employees what they did the previous day, what they are working on today, and what roadblocks they are facing.
Clearly document and communicate your remote work policy with employees
Make sure to clearly document your remote work policy to ensure complete transparency among your organization. Specify which roles are eligible, whether employees need to maintain a certain number of working hours, and how productivity and availability will be measured (if at all).
Hold team-wide or all-hands meetings to explain the policy to employees and designate someone on your benefits or HR team as the remote work program manager who employees can come to with questions. Revisit your remote work policy at least once a year to keep up with trends and competitors. Provide training and resources for team managers so they’re prepared to answer questions and resolve conflicts within their team if confusion arises.
Determine the tools your team needs to work remotely
If your team is making the switch to a flexible remote work policy, make sure to think about how your employees will communicate. Video conferencing softwares or conference call services can eliminate a lot of back and forth that would otherwise be prolonged via email or phone. Statistics show that 96% of remote workers report that video conferencing calls improve productivity.
Here’s what you’ll need to provide to support remote workers:
Laptop or desktop connected to WiFi
VPN or a way for remote employees to access company shared files and protect data
A messaging app to allow employees to communicate in both work-related and social ways
Shared calendar to track when employees are working in-office, working remotely, or out of office
A project management software to keep track of team assignments and tasks needed when you can’t check in with one another in-person
A document-sharing tool to easily and securely share documents and projects between team members in different locations
Other role-specific devices and tools, for example, high-quality headphones for an audio engineer, or headsets for remote sales reps
Hybrid teams don’t work the same way homogenous teams do. For hybrid teams of both in-office and remote employees, messaging apps, video calls, shared calendars, and other forms of communication factor in more heavily to ensure that everyone on the team is up to speed.
Facilitate a collaborative work environment between in-office and remote employees
When considering a remote work policy, make sure to factor in socializing and team-building activities for employees to meet in person. We recommend that individual teams meet in person for a team building activity or retreat at least once a quarter and that the entire company meet in person at least once a year.
Try to incorporate more frequent video conferencing calls with a flexible agenda to allow for small talk and bonding among hybrid teammates. By creating a space for employees to talk and share stories, you can create a smoother team dynamic and increase productivity.
Some hybrid teams have “open office hours” for employees to tune in via Google Hangouts or Zoom between certain hours on a given day of the week with team managers or company leaders. It’s a great opportunity to bounce ideas off of coworkers you may not often interact with and acts as a nice alternative to standing at the coffee machine in an office or running into someone in the elevator.
Another option is to offer employees a quarterly travel budget. This can work well for both fully-remote and hybrid companies. Employees at 100% remote companies can travel to retreats or to work from another location with a fellow remote employee on a regular basis, or those who work remotely for a company with a headquarters can travel to HQ to meet with their team, have performance reviews, or work on short-term projects.
Finally, you’ll want to build in team-building and communication channels for remote employees to interact with their co-located and remote counterparts on a more frequent basis when they can’t spend time together in-person. Tools like virtual lunch and learns, connecting different remote employees each week for an informal virtual coffee meeting, or partnering remote employees up with an in-office mentor can make a big difference when it comes to making employees feel included and a part of the team culture.
Include employees in the conversation
For those creating a flexible work policy for the first time, make sure your employees are part of the conversation. Your employees will be a valuable asset in knowing which perks are important and will help you attract and retain talent, as well as keep everyone happy and satisfied.
Data doesn't lie
The people have spoken: 65% of adults believe that a flexible schedule would allow them to be more productive, and remote workers report feeling happier and less stressed than in-office employees. Modern technology has enabled the workplace to exist outside the walls of a traditional office. If you don’t already have a remote work policy, what’s stopping you?
Looking for more content related to working from home? Discover everything you need to know by heading to our comprehensive remote work resource library.
Sophia Bernazzani is the Content Marketing Manager at Owl Labs, creator of the Meeting Owl, a 360° smart video conferencing camera. She lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, and when she's not writing about leadership and remote work, you can find her doing yoga or taking pictures of her cat.