If we learned one thing during the COVID-19 crisis of early 2020, its that we're a more independent workforce than we thought we were. Companies in high risk areas have quickly transitioned to mandated (or highly recommended) work-from-home policies, simply using the tools that they already have at their disposal. 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 may 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
It goes without saying that your remote work policies should be put in place long before any emergency can strike. Take steps to implement the right tools and rules necessary for success and consider the different types of situations that could keep office dwelling employees homebound for different 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 take place 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 bring home files and other items they need to do their job on a long-term basis. These measures can often last for a significant amount of time.
- Individual Health Risks: When an employee is recovering from an illness, at the onset of a cold, 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, however there should be clear expectations of productivity and necessity in order to determine whether or not PTO should be used instead. These measures can range from a half of a day to a few days of work.
- Inclement Weather: When severe weather strikes, coming in to the office could be the difference between making it in for the day or never returning to work again. Depending on employee location and severity, it is often advisable to employees to stay put and avoid risk. These are often short instances but hard to anticipate.
Human Resources is Your Best Resource
When it comes to working remote, there's a few different prevailing schools of thought in the HR community. They can guide you in the direction of what would best benefit employees directly and, depending on how progressive their policies are, they can advise senior leadership and direct managers about what solutions would be a great fit.
Today's HR departments understand that each department isn't one-size-fits all, noting that different job duties have different needs when it comes to remaining in the office. Instead of creating sweeping policies that may not be beneficial to 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 remote. Ensure that both your hardware and software choices have full functionality while in and out of the office. These days, prices are negligible when it comes to choosing between CPUs and docked laptops, allowing for teams to stay flexible outside the office while also making it easier to bring information to meetings while in-house.
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. All of 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 to move non-essential employees remote, a clear and easily understood chain of communication is integral to preventing 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 call it tried-and-true, but a phone tree can be the most logical tool to spread information from the top down. Deliver messages to every employee by making it clear that their direct supervisor should contact them in case of a closure or emergency, ensuring that everybody knows who they should turn to for guidance and instruction.
Your Human Resources Information System (HRIS) may have integrated tools to expedite communication and allow it to come from one single, trusted source. Whether that's an email blast that goes to employees' personal accounts or a mass-text that can give immediate updates for building closures, it's worth exploring the added tools that can streamline the chain of communication.
Embrace a Trusting Environment
There's a degree of trepidation that comes with remote work. It's dangerous to assume that your perfectly productive in-house employee will suddenly slide off the radar when they transition to a remote role in an emergency; just because they're out of sight doesn't mean that 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 that you use to evaluate in-office performance. Every position has benchmarks that you've seen in action and setting those benchmarks as expectations can ensure that remote sessions have the same output as a day in the office.