A remote work policy governs the way that your organization will approach remote work. It is a public document that ought to apply to every remote worker within your business. It is not an employment contract though it should be cited in your contract as a guide to expected conduct and behavior.
Your remote work policy can be drawn up by a lawyer, a professional HR person, or a layperson. We recommend writing it in plain English, so it’s easily understood. It ought to touch on the following 16 areas: security, who qualifies, normal work rules, times of work, communications standards, KPIs, insurance, benefits, expenses, termination, social media, data protection, confidentiality, response times, care of equipment, health and safety and taxes.
Security Comes First
We’d start by outlining your expectations for cybersecurity throughout the organization. Remote work is built on the BYOD (bring your own device) philosophy and if your company has a BYOD policy – it ought to be referred to in your remote work policy.
You want to define:
- How to connect to the office systems (do they need a secure VPN?)
- Protocols for data transmission particularly in the case of sensitive data
- The use of public Wi-Fi what’s acceptable and what’s not
- Plus the usual overview of encryption, memory sticks/external hard drive use, anti-virus and firewalls
Working from anywhere introduces new security risks and while you can’t always head off every risk, you can at least try.
Set Out Who Qualifies For Remote Work
This doesn’t mean a list of names, obviously, but rather a list of positions. Everybody wants to work remotely but that doesn’t mean that, in some organizations, everybody can work remotely.
You want to be clear about which roles can go remote and which can’t. It’s a good idea to consult the workforce when drafting these rules as otherwise, people are likely to accuse you of playing favorites.
Make It Clear That Normal Work Rules Apply
That means refer to the employee handbook and make sure that, perhaps with the exception of the office dress code, normal work rules still apply when you’re away from the office. In particular, it’s a good idea to highlight the company policies on electronic communication. This can help guide people in knowing what’s OK on Slack, Trello, etc.
Lay Out The Times Of Work
You don’t need to have everyone present from 9 to 5, in most cases, but it can really help to define some core hours for your remote workers where everyone ought to be online and available. This allows for easy scheduling of meetings, to implement training and to hear back on any work that you’re waiting on.
Establish Your Expectations For Communication
Bluntly, remote work requires a lot more communication than office work. When people can’t see each other and don’t stop for chats at the water cooler, etc. it’s very easy for information to get stuck with one person rather than flowing around the business as it should.
We’d suggest developing a training program to help remote employees get with the communication structure. This ought to include training on any software tools that you use for communication as well as the need for regular communication and how that communication should take place.
Establish KPIs and Communicate Them Effectively
It’s amazing how many bosses look distraught when you ask them how things are going with a remote team because though they’ve come up with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators in earth speak), they’ve failed to negotiate and agree on them with their workers.
Standards must be fair and reasonable and while a worker shouldn’t be able to refuse any kind of work – they ought to be agreed with that worker. There may be good reasons that your expectations are unrealistic and it’s a good idea to overcome any objections before locking someone into delivering something.
If you are providing employees with equipment, you’re going to need to think about how you insure that equipment and what rules employees must follow to meet the insurer’s criteria.
This can be a real pain and it’s why many remote work policies offer employees some cash on an annual or bi-annual basis to purchase their own equipment, then it’s up to them to insure it too.
Consider Worker’s Comp/Sick Pay/Benefits
Can a remote employee phone in sick? If so, what does that cover? After all, if you are free to schedule most of your own hours – in theory, a day or two off sick is something you can make up later.
You need to consider the law here too – different territories have very different rules regarding sick leave. If in any doubt, it’s better to pay for legal/HR advice at this stage to clear things up then end in court or a tribunal forking over fistfuls of cash at a later date.
Your Expenses Policy
Remote workers are often entitled to expenses but what expenses? It seems unreasonable for a remote employee to claim back coffee, for example, that’s on them but what about when they travel to a client meeting? Do you cover any of their office equipment or their utility bills as part of the remote working arrangement?
Laying out clearly what’s covered and what’s not, can save on huge arguments later on down the line – let’s be fair about this, money is the biggest cause of arguments in any relationship including employer-employee, so try to head that off at the pass.
You need to make it clear that while remote workers may be considered for redundancy and while they are definitely still covered by the company disciplinary policy – they are not going to be sacked for working remotely.
A big fear among employees is that if they go remote, their managers will use this as an excuse to get rid of them. You have to support your employees in their decisions to go remotely if you want the best out of a remote work policy.
We think it can be handy to lay out your expectations around social media use too. That’s because remote workers tend to be more active on social media (mainly because their boss can’t see them and because it’s a substitute for the human company that they had at the workplace).
Defining what is and isn’t acceptable conduct is a very good idea.
Data Protection And Confidentiality
When your employees are wandering around to their hearts’ content with your data and company information – it’s very important to explain what your expectations and, indeed, your legal obligations with regard to that data are.
Have a clear data protection policy and train people on it – this will reduce your liabilities if things go wrong. Make sure that employees understand that confidentiality continues to be important even when they are not in the office.
Define Response Times
If someone sends a remote worker some new work or a query, how long do they have before they should be expected to reply?
Response times are helpful because they set reasonable expectations on both parties – if the answer is “within 24 hours” (which in most cases will be about right) then the sender knows they have to wait up to a day and the recipient knows when they have to get back.
Now, of course, you can allow for emergencies, etc. and even have grading for responses. During core hours you might expect a response within 2 hours which at least sets out when something will be done by. And so on…
It’s your business, your rules but make them clear and make them fair.
Define Care Of Equipment
If you supply or pay for an employee’s equipment, you should have rules governing the care of that equipment and also the return of the equipment (or some cash) if their employment comes to an end.
You may also want to mandate what kind of internet service speed they must have as part of this clause.
Health and Safety
You also ought to provide some guidelines on safe working from home, coffee shops, co-working spaces, etc. if an employee damages themselves in the course of their duties – you may be liable if you haven’t given them appropriate data on how to take care of themselves.
Think fire/smoke alarms at home. Think guidance on lifting heavy objects. That kind of thing. The more you can cover, the easier it is for your employees to work safely.
Our final clause would relate to the fact that it’s possible for some employees to get a tax deduction based on working from a home office. You just want to make it clear that the employee is responsible for claiming this and not your accounts’ team.
A remote work policy exists to help employers and employees navigate working without direct oversight.
The idea is to create a flexible framework that protects employees’ rights whilst delivering maximum benefits to the employer. Remote work is the future. The sooner you develop your company’s remote work policy, the better.