Why You Need a Remote Work Policy
(and How to Craft One)
Published May 9th, 2022
Two years ago, many companies never considered having a “Remote Work Policy” in their company handbook. As a result, organizations had to react quickly when non-essential businesses were forced to close. Decisions were needed regarding who could effectively work from home, what mechanisms would be used to appropriately supervise remote employees, and what policies would be implemented regarding reimbursement of expenses incurred by the employee.
As many companies begin to resume pre-pandemic work practices, some employees are anxious to return to the office, while others have found significant cost savings in terms of commuting expenses, parking, childcare, lunch, etc. and would much prefer to continue working remotely. One of the considerations for many job seekers is whether a prospective employer allows for remote work. Consequently, now is a good time to be proactive by establishing a Remote Work Policy for your organization.
Ginny Biesiada is a Syracuse based consultant specializing in human resources management.
Employers have three primary options:
- Fully in-person whereby employees are expected to work in the office all the time.
- Fully remote whereby employees can work remotely all the time.
- Hybrid approach where employees can split their time between in-office and remote.
For those who utilize the fully in-person approach, it is not necessary to implement a policy, but it is best to institute a gradual transition to bringing them back – having them start initially a few days a week and working up to returning full time in the office.
For those allowing fully remote or a hybrid approach, outlining the terms and conditions of the arrangement are important. The Remote Work Policy should either define specifically who the policy covers or outline the procedure for gaining approval to work remotely (i.e. direct supervisor approval, HR approval, ED approval, or more than one). It is important that permission to work remotely is given based on the ability of a particular job to be done remotely, rather than the specific personal or familial needs of the employee. If one accounting clerk in the organization can work remotely, presumably they all can, not just the ones who have young children. This is not only more equitable but will serve to protect the organization against allegations of favoritism or bias.
The Remote Work Policy should outline what computer equipment or peripherals will be supplied by the organization, what, if any, reimbursement the employer will be making toward phone and internet, and whether it will be a fixed dollar amount per employee or will be based on receipts of actual expenses. Finally, an explanation of any other resources or policies that will be provided to support the employee’s ability to work remotely should be defined.
It is also important to outline any expectations regarding the need for an employee to come into the office periodically. If you expect a remote employee to be available to attend a staff meeting periodically, or to be available at a moment’s notice if a crisis arises, be sure to specify that so the employee does not assume they can relocate to Florida for the winter and continue to work from there. Similarly, if they are able to continue their work while having relocated to Florida – let them know that as well since it could be an important consideration for them.
Supervisors should be educated on the unique challenges related to overseeing individuals who work remotely. Some employers have a difficult time believing that employees they cannot directly see working eight hours a day are doing so and have installed software on the employees’ computers that monitor keystrokes and/or websites visited in order to feel comfortable with what they are doing. A preferred approach, however, is to remind those employers to focus on results, not hours worked. They should also be advised to take special care to treat employees who work remotely the same as they do those who are in the office. It is an unexpected consequence that supervisors tend to favor those individuals that they see regularly and interact with collegially over those they only see on Zoom occasionally.
Finally, it is proactive to include a clause in the policy stating that the ability to work remotely may be discontinued at any time so there does not become a presumption on the part of employees that it is permanent. Management should make it a point to review the effectiveness of their Remote Work Policy annually in order to track its impact and make any necessary adjustments.
As is the case with so many human resource matters, the ability to be flexible, open-minded and clearly communicate with employees will help create a successful working environment.