Maybe you’re interested in a remote work program to attract and retain employees who value a flexible working environment. Perhaps unforeseen circumstances have forced your employees into working from home.
Whatever your reason for adopting remote work, it’s time to develop a formal remote work policy—something far too many businesses overlook.
GetApp’s recent survey of American workers found that while 78% of companies allow some form of remote work, only 20% of survey respondents work at a company with a formal remote work policy.* These numbers suggest that most companies practicing remote work are doing so without the proper direction and support offered by a remote work policy.
Remote work represents a fundamental change in the ways teams function. This requires a shift in philosophy, and the genuine belief that remote work can benefit an organization.
Once you’ve decided a remote work program is right for your company, consider the following before crafting your policy:
To be productive, remote employees must be equipped with appropriate hardware and software. You must design a solution that configures laptops or personal computers with a secure VPN and cloud-based software that allows every employee equal access to company tools and data.
Collaboration tools are also essential. Remote employees must be able to communicate effectively with others. Email and basic chat apps are useful, but investing in a comprehensive communication tool can ease collaboration and level the playing field for remote workers. These tools often integrate with other business systems and allow users to set status updates, manage projects, and create specific/dedicated channels.
Consider which roles are suitable for remote work and can be performed effectively from outside the office. If goals can be achieved and workflows maintained or adapted, the role is probably a good candidate. Once a role has been deemed suitable, your business must determine how much remote work is appropriate. Some jobs function perfectly well working from home full time, while others might require going to the office a few days a week.
Just because a job can be performed remotely doesn’t mean all employees want to work remotely, or have the discipline to do so. These employees might consider working from a co-working space, coffee shop, or library. When creating a remote work program, consider options for employees who either don’t want to participate or find that it doesn't work for them.
Trust is the most important factor in whether your remote work program will be a success. Management must clearly convey that employees are trusted to do their work whether in or out of the office. Likewise, remote employees must remain accountable to their tasks or face the consequences just as if they were office-based.
Once you’ve decided remote work is a good fit for your business, it’s time to develop the policy. When drafting your remote work policy, be sure to establish guidelines and expectations for eligibility, productivity, availability, and security.
Some roles are more conducive to remote work than others, and there will be some positions that do not qualify (such as those requiring onsite physical activity). Eligibility for remote work should be based on role, rather than employee.
Develop a contingency plan for business continuity in the case of crisis (e.g., COVID-19, natural disaster). Roles deemed unsuitable under normal circumstances might be forced into remote work scenarios during emergency situations.
Many businesses are hesitant to allow remote work due to fears that employees will be less productive when out of view or will treat working from home as a holiday.
GetApp’s survey found that, of those respondents who don’t work remotely, 29% don’t do so because management doesn’t see the value. But studies have shown that working from home actually boosts overall productivity.
Remember that remote work is enabled by trust and measured by outcome. Resist any urge to excessively monitor or track remote employees. Instead, establish outcome-based metrics, set goals, and check progress through regularly scheduled video conferences and your project management software.
A key challenge when managing remote workers is knowing where everyone is at any given time. Some remote work policies are structured so that business hours are the same whether in the office or out. This is a hedge that betrays a lack of commitment to the remote work philosophy.
Employees must be empowered to make their own decisions about when and where they work. This doesn’t mean that employees are free to disappear until the next meeting, but rather that remote employees must have the means to alert others to their availability or lack thereof.
This could be a shared calendar application or simply setting an out-of-office email indicator. They must also show accountability by maintaining commitments to meetings and responding to messages within a reasonable time frame.
Remote work adds an additional layer of security concern. All data transactions now transmit over Wi-Fi, and conversations that would usually take place in a secure office environment take place online or in public places. This makes data security even more important.
Employees working outside of the office are more likely to use a variety of personal devices for work, which increases the chance of data breaches resulting from lost or compromised devices. Adopting cloud-based business applications makes remote work more secure because company data is stored in the cloud rather than on a device.
Remote work policies must:
Set requirements for automatic device locking
Insist on two-factor authentication (2FA) when available
Require the use of a VPN when connecting to Wi-Fi
When working in public, business data must also be protected from low-tech methods (such as eavesdropping, or watching users log in to an application in public) used by fraudsters or those engaged in corporate espionage. In our high-tech world, these low-tech methods are often overlooked, but they are highly effective and remain in use.
Establish a weekly video chat between managers and their direct reports to ensure regular contact and a dependable time when information can be shared face-to-face. Some news will always be best delivered “in person” rather than via email or messaging, and employees may be more likely to ask questions or voice concerns during a video call than via other means.
In addition to one-on-ones, hold weekly or biweekly video conferences including all team members. Encourage remote workers to engage in their own informal video calls with one another to catch up on projects or simply stay in touch.
Maintaining a sense of separation between life and work is a critical factor in preventing overwork or burnout. This means that remote workers need to take their scheduling game up a notch.
It’s easy to get in the zone while working on a project at home and suddenly realize it’s late in the evening, or—on the flip side—be distracted by laundry that needs folding and dishes that need washing.
Encourage employees to schedule their time and keep up with hours worked. Seek ongoing feedback from remote workers, and consider using an anonymous survey to identify pain points.
Remote work programs are easy to start but difficult to execute. A remote work policy helps navigate your business through a new way of working and ensures that employees have the guidelines they need while away from the office.
Your policy will not be successful without management support and a philosophy that believes in the benefits of remote work. Rather than control, organizations must focus on business outcomes, ensure accountability, and coach employees toward self-reliance.
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GetApp Remote Work Surveys, November 2019
The remote work survey referenced in this article was conducted by GetApp in November, 2019, among 912 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States. A follow-up survey was conducted in November, 2019 among 394 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States.
Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. This document, while intended to explain the importance of a remote work policy, is in no way intended to provide legal advice or endorse a specific course of action.
Sr. Content Analyst
I’m a senior content analyst at GetApp where I've been covering security and tech trends since 2018. The one tech trend I think you should keep an eye on: How emerging data privacy laws are impacting the ad tech industry.