The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the working world upside down. Businesses that had once decided that remote work was unsustainable and unworkable for their needs were forced to quickly convert their workforce from onsite to remote to keep functioning. Suddenly and without warning, remote work policies became a glaring omission in the company vision.
Because of this, businesses have had to quickly establish temporary rules and tools to help their employees communicate, be productive, and adhere to company guidelines. In addition, employers have realized that they may need to revise their hastily made remote work action plans. To assist previously onsite businesses transition to a remote work model, here are a few ideas to create long-term remote work policies.
Analyze the Pros and Cons of Having a Remote Workforce
To facilitate projects and workloads, employers must evaluate their current action plans and decide what works. To this effect, many large corporations like Twitter, Shopify, Upwork, and Square have decided to embrace a remote-first workplace model. Other corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Morgan Stanley, Capital One, and Salesforce have extended their remote work options.
Other companies considering a similar change should think of this period of forced telecommuting as a trial run or experiment. Does it make sense for your type of business? Is it reasonable to expect your employees to perform their duties from home instead of a traditional onsite office?
On that note, employers should investigate what difficulties new telecommuting team members are facing and how the company can alleviate them. Furthermore, discovering the root of the problem is crucial. Employers must address improvements or challenges necessary to build long-term remote work policies.
On the positive side, employers adopting a fully distributed workforce will realize lower overhead. Brick-and-mortar locations can become redundant and utilities will drop significantly. As a result, employers may discover they have the budget for annual gatherings or retreats to encourage staff to connect professionally and socially. However, if productivity or quality drops during this experimental period, employers should determine if this is because of the remote work policy or external events (such as the COVID-19 pandemic).
Actionable Item: Survey or interview your employees. Find out what challenges they face during this forced work-from-home period and see if a change in company policy could alleviate it.
Consult with an Attorney Before Making Changes
Employment law differs from state to state, and immigration laws may complicate hiring international employees. Therefore, employers should hire legal and accounting professionals. This will enable them to identify any potential tax or immigration issues before hiring someone from out of state or abroad.
Another consideration is to determine what the company will pay for and what is the responsibility of employees/contractors. Will the company provide a budget to enable staff to access a coworking space instead of paying for relocation expenses? If privacy is an issue because of Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) issues, then the employer may want to send a compliance reviewer to check the security and privacy level in the remote workers’ home office. Does the office have a lock on the door? Is a secured cabinet or closet available for file storage?
Actionable Item: If transitioning to a fully-telecommute workforce, review current contracts and benefits with professionals.
Establish Well-Defined Codes of Conduct
Unspoken behavioral rules influence workplace behavior. Moreover, these norms have been decided and established by human resources departments, upper management, work colleagues, and peers. However, these same norms aren’t explicit in a work-from-home environment, especially with many employees separating their work lives and personal lives.
Once a company establishes a long-term remote work policy, the home office or coworking center essentially becomes an extension of the company. Therefore, employers should state company expectations regarding social media, anti-discrimination laws, confidentiality, and NDAs. As remote workers, these individuals will be the public face of the company and exemplify such expectations. Remote work policies must include clear instructions about acceptable behavior while functioning as an employee of the company.
- Alert remote workers that they must still abide by all company policies no matter where they are located.
- Remind workers that if they cannot do something at the office, they should not do it at home, especially if it has to do with proprietary or company-owned information.
- Have employees review remote work policies and provide examples of inappropriate actions or behaviors to ensure clarity.
Decide What Tools Will Become Standard
With the sudden influx of remote work, companies have hopped on whatever remote-friendly communication and collaboration tools were available. In the first days of the pandemic, services like Zoom, Skype, or Meet were inundated with new users. In addition, collaboration tools such as Slack, Basecamp, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Asana, Monday.com, and Microsoft Teams surged in popularity.
However, using multiple platforms resulted in redundant work and project overlap. That’s why doling out responsibilities and only using company-sanctioned platforms is integral. Work activities run smoothly when everyone knows exactly what to do. If you have weekly or even daily meetings, will they be over a conference call or video chat?
Choose the tools that best work for your needs and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Establish administrators and be prepared to pay for premium access instead of expecting your employees to use free or trial versions with more limited features. Make it simpler for remote colleagues to interact and touch base. Complicated processes do nothing but slow down productivity.
Actionable Item: Remind employees that company-provided hardware and tools are to be used only in the manner allowed by the remote work policy guidelines.
Make Sure Managers Can Handle A Remote Workforce
Lagging productivity due to remote work is a concern of many managers and employers. But to alleviate this, managers should be clear about work expectations and what benchmarks each employee must meet while working remotely.
Consequently, some managers new to remote teams may tend to micromanage. Yet this is a zero-sum situation. A fully distributed team manager has to deal with different or conflicting time zones. Plus, employee workstyles may not converge with the rest of the staff. A habitual night owl who performs the best working independently simply won’t achieve their professional best at daybreak. Conversely, an early riser may not fit the exact mold of productivity.
Subsequently, improved communication and tone are also vital. With the lack of face-to-face communication from working at home, colleagues and managers will undoubtedly miss micro-expressions or visual cues that come with a normal in-person conversation. Hence, ignoring a quick-judgment instinct is a pivotal point in the life of a remote manager.
With COVID-19 fears, school changes, and other disruptions of normalcy, managers must become empathetic, patient, and compassionate.
Actionable Item: Resist the urge to micromanage. No one likes working with someone breathing over their shoulder while working onsite, nor do remote workers enjoy being contacted multiple times per day asking for their current work status.
Consider Employee Satisfaction as Part of Your Remote Work Policy
A happy employee is a productive employee. That’s why employers should choose policies that will benefit and help with productivity. Furthermore, employers need to realize that an improved work-life balance can improve morale and tenure. Rather than compensation, these perks determine if the employee is in it for the long haul. A recent Gallup poll revealed that more than half the people surveyed preferred to work from home permanently. In addition, workers are more willing than ever to switch jobs to continue a telecommuting lifestyle.
Whether it is avoiding a long daily commute, spending more time with family, helping the environment, or simply having more autonomy over the day, is almost always one of the top reasons for employees wanting to transition to a telecommuting lifestyle. Remember that perks such as schedule flexibility, tuition reimbursement for personal development, gym or fitness center memberships or discounts, services such as housekeeping or emergency childcare help are also a big draw for remote employees and help reduce employee turnover rates.
Actionable Item: Keeping a good employee is more cost-effective than recruiting and changing a new one. However, incentives are essential. With many companies transitioning to a distributed or remote-work model, telecommuting may no longer be enough to keep a productive staff.
Remember Your IT Needs
In the dynamic digital world, security is vital to the success and reputation of a business. As a result, employers must assess computer and internet security issues.
Some questions to consider may include:
- Is the software on the computer up-to-date, and does it have and appropriate anti-virus program?
- Will the employer provide company laptops or provide an internet connectivity subsidy if workers need top of the line internet speeds?
- Will those computers have proprietary software, employee time-tracking tools, or keyloggers pre-installed to ensure the employee is in full compliance with privacy and data security protocols?
- Is your company transparent with the presence of activity or video-based monitoring software?
Actionable Item: If you choose to require time-tracking or monitoring software, make sure you can provide the software and hardware yourself. Next, inform your staff about its presence. Failure to do so can erode trust and breed resentment.
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