Designing a Remote Work Policy That Works

If we learned one thing during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that we're a more independent workforce than we once thought. Companies in high-risk areas quickly transitioned to mandated (or highly recommended) work-from-home policies using the tools they already had. It begs the question—how would this have been even easier if preparations started ahead of time?

Lay a foundation for success from the very start. Remaining mindful of employee needs, wants, and everything in between will help your organization thrive no matter where your employees reside. A healthy remote work policy will increase productivity while employees are in the office, so long as they know that they have the trust, support, and flexibility that comes with a well-thought-out remote work policy.

Start Sooner Than Later

Your company should establish your remote work policies long before an emergency strikes. Take steps to implement the tools and rules necessary for success, and consider the different situations that could keep office-dwelling employees homebound for varying lengths of time.

Not all remote work factors are equal. To create the most comprehensive policies, understand the different reasons why employees may become homebound:

  • Global Health Risks: These situations are precautionary, but they often occur during the most severe and threatening situations. Directives to stay home can come from a parent company, senior leadership, Center for Disease Control recommendation, or even a government mandate. While severe, there's often enough lead time to allow employees to return to the office to gather files and other items they need to do their job long-term. These measures can often last for a significant amount of time.

  • Individual Health Risks: When an employee is recovering from an illness, becoming sick, or transitioning back to work from a medical procedure, it's often advisable to stay out of the office until they're at full speed. These situations often arise suddenly, but there should be clear expectations of productivity to determine whether they should use PTO instead. These measures can range from half a day to a few days off work.

  • Inclement Weather: When severe weather strikes, coming into the office could be the difference between making it in for the day or never returning to work again. Depending on an employee’s location and the severity of conditions, it is often advisable to let employees stay put and avoid risk. These are often short instances but hard to anticipate.

Human Resources Is Your Best Resource

When it comes to remote work, there are a few different prevailing schools of thought in the HR community. They can guide you in the direction of what best benefits employees, and, depending on how progressive their policies are, they can recommend solutions to senior leadership and direct managers.

Today's HR departments understand that each department faces unique circumstances, noting that different job duties have different needs when it comes to remaining in the office. Instead of creating sweeping policies that may not benefit every employee, consult the leaders of individual departments to determine the best course of action.

Be Prepared With Software and Hardware

A setup for success starts with day-to-day tools that can work both in-house and remotely. Ensure your hardware and software choices have full functionality in and out of the office. These days, prices are negligible when it comes to choosing between desktops and docked laptops, allowing teams to stay flexible outside the office while making it easier to bring information to on-site meetings.

When it comes to software, use cloud storage solutions to keep files easily accessible at all times. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can protect sensitive data, web-based applications can provide flexible use over an internet connection, and a robust chat system will keep employees in close contact even when they're apart. These tools are just as useful in the office as they are outside.

Create Chains of Communication

When that snowstorm strikes or it's time for nonessential employees to work remotely, a clear and easily understood chain of communication is integral to prevent confusion. Not all employees have cellular access to their work email, making it necessary to communicate through outside channels. You can call it dated or tried-and-true, but a phone tree can be the most logical tool to spread information. Deliver messages to every employee by making it clear that their direct supervisor should contact them in case of closure or emergency, ensuring everybody knows who they should turn to for guidance and instruction.

Your Human Resources Information System (HRIS) may have integrated tools to expedite communication, enabling it to come from a single, trusted source. Whether that's an email blast that goes to employees' personal accounts or a mass text that gives immediate updates for building closures, it's worth exploring the added tools that can streamline the chain of communication.

Embrace a Trusting Environment

Remote work comes with a degree of trepidation. It's dangerous to assume that your perfectly productive in-house employee will suddenly slide off the radar when transitioning to a remote role in an emergency. Just because they're out of sight doesn't mean their work is out of mind. It takes strength in management to remember that work is still the main component of remote work.

Think about the metrics you use to evaluate in-office performance. Every position has benchmarks that you've seen in action—setting those benchmarks as expectations can ensure that remote sessions have the same output as a day in the office.



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