- Is there already a remote working policy in place? Or are you starting from scratch? Do your homework about what exists already at your office.
- A working from home policy can provide much-needed clarity for employees.
- Work with a legal expert to finalize your remote work policy.
- Effectively communicate the new working from home policy through email, an all-staff meeting, and in the onboarding of new staff.
What is a remote work (working from home) policy?
A remote working policy is a defined organizational policy that sets out the criteria and stipulations around remote working or teleworking. Like any policy, this would be written by organizational leadership and potentially even signed off on by the board of directors. Staff would then look to this policy to know (1) whether working from home is acceptable, (2) in what circumstances they can work from home, (3) the procedure that must be followed to work from home.
Why do I need a remote working policy?
Many organizations were blindsided by COVID-19. Those without a proper working from home policy were left without clear guidance on how remote work should be undertaken at the organization. This included human resources questions as well as basic operational and technical issues such as equipment and insurance. Having a remote working policy in place will ensure that staff are clear about the organization’s expectations and provide guidance on how to initiate a work-from-home agreement between the employer and the employee.
As working from home becomes more and more the new normal, a working from home policy is becoming a critical component for organizations that are navigating a remote workforce. Even in those organizations that function mostly in-person still, having a policy in place will remove any misunderstandings that employees have and will make for more clarity.
Legally, it is a good idea to set out your work from home policy as well. Workers need to know what types of implications there are to working from home such as time tracking, audits of home office space, data security, and more. We recommend that any organization’s policy be reviewed by a legal professional once it has been drafted to make sure all of those T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted.
Why COVID-19 has forced many to make a working from home policy
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, most organizations saw remote work as a very small part of their workforce. Now, it can be the majority of staff working from home. And without a governing policy, major issues can crop up. It is likely that most organizations will keep some level of the remote workforce even past the immediate effects of COVID-19. But what the pandemic has shown us is that working from home is not only possible but in many ways preferable. Having a working from home policy is the next logical step for organizations that want to formalize the remote working idea.
What is the difference between a remote working policy and a teleworking agreement?
Put simply, agreements are how you operationalize the official working from home policy. Each worker themselves will need to sign a working from home agreement which refers to elements of the policy. Take a look at how to structure a working from home agreement in this post here (with a handy template).
What is in a remote working policy?
We have gone through and come up with all of the sections that you might need to address in a working from home policy. You may not need all of these sections, but it is a good idea to look at each and figure out whether it is relevant for your organizations.
First of all, layout who is eligible to work from home at your organization. Is it everyone? Is this a widespread policy that will apply to everyone equally? Or does it go on a case by case basis? Some organizations may want to transition to an “office-less” model where everyone works from home. Others may opt for a more “hybrid” model where some staff continues working at the office and some work from home. Usually, we would be looking at a mix of some kind. What is important here is to signal who can work from home and whether there are special considerations that would define this group.
Furthermore, any positions that are deemed necessary to be done from the physical office should be listed upfront. In some cases, you simply need a physical presence in the office to do a job.
Acceptable reasons to work from home
If your organization is continuing a more standard model with a physical office for most staff, you may want to outline for staff what are acceptable reasons to work from home. Usually, this would apply to people who intermittently work from home due to a specific issue. Outlining what are acceptable reasons to telecommute on a specific day is a wise thing to do so everyone is aware of when they can take advantage of a work from home policy.
Some acceptable reasons may include:
- Child care or care for another dependent (you will need to decide how often this can occur)
- Health reasons
- Delivery or service call at home
- Home or family emergency
- Need for quiet working space (for calls or something else)
- Inclement weather that would make commute long
- Transportation issue (for example car is needing repair)
Again, these are more for “ad hoc” requests on a daily basis. While it is important to make clear when working from home is acceptable, nowadays many organizations may be facing staff that wants to work from home full time or most of the time. This is a bit of a different issue and would require some deeper conversation with the employee and potentially a work from home agreement being signed.
How will staff request to work from home. If it is just a single day, what is the procedure? What about if the staff member wants to more formally request a change in their regular working location? Be very clear about how these different scenarios should be approached with supervisors and HR.
Temporary VS Permanent
As mentioned above, you will want to stipulate what “kind” of remote work you are talking about and be clear about the different procedures for each. Someone wanting to work 100% from another city may be more conversation than someone who needs to work from home for a few days because their kid is sick.
For those looking for a more formal permanent working from home situation, it is helpful to layout a trial period that each individual will be subject to (assuming your organization isn’t going fully 100% office-less). Some individuals are perfectly cut-out for remote work, others may struggle. Make it clear that staff need to demonstrate that working from home is the right choice for them and the company. I recommend something like a 2-3 month trial period. This will give you, as the manager, enough time to evaluate performance and make any changes necessary.
Of course, staff will have questions around compensation. Are there any compensations that would be specific to remote work employees?
Will salary remain the same no matter where the employee works? Is the salary scale different for someone who doesn’t need to commute or live in a more expensive salary? In the vast number of situations, salary is identical between the office and remote employees. But be specific about this in the policy.
Will benefits remain exactly the same if an employee is to switch to 100% remote work? In some cases, a company may want to offer free or discounted access to counseling services. We know that time away from social interaction can take a toll on worker morale and mental health, so these types of offers are definitely something to consider.
Generally, it is good to explain that the office worker’s compensation plan applies to those working from home as well, assuming they have designated a home office area where work will be done. Refer to the insurance section for more details. This would of course depend on the insurance provider you are with and you will want to talk to a legal professional about the stipulations here.
*We are not a law firm and this document does not represent legal advice for either employees or companies. Policies like a remote working policy need to be reviewed by HR and legal experts before becoming final.
Remote workers will need to work a specific set of hours. Are the expectations that remote employees should be available for just the “core” work hours of the organization? While working from home it can be easy for employees to accidentally put in overtime. By being clear about when it is expected that employees will work, you can avoid having to pay a lot of overtime unless it is discussed with supervisors in advance.
If the remote employee is in a different time zone from the main office, will they be responsible to work the hours in the main office time zone? In what ways will the employee need to adjust their working hours in order to be available?
What time tracking will need to take place for remote employees? Will timesheets or software time tracking be necessary for each remote employee? Time tracking can be very important to make sure when employees are eligible for overtime. Similarly, clients may require evidence of time worked on specific projects.
Attendance and availability / responsiveness
Related to the above, what are the specific policies around remote employees being available during work hours? The employer should be clear that employees should be as available as any staff working at the office in most cases.
In order to show availability and responsiveness, layout the expectations around the use of communication channels such as email, Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Team Chat, Skype, etc. I call this the “green dot” policy. When working from home, employees should be available most of the time and showing a green dot on these platforms. We know that being on email just isn’t enough nowadays, so be sure to be explicit about what channels are non-negotiable.
Meeting attendance (online and in person)
Similarly, remote employees should be able to attend video meetings regularly and meet the same standard of attendance that in-office employees are held to. You should outline whether the organization will require intermittent in-face meetings at the office even for remote employees. It is common to have face-to-face all staff meetings each quarter and require remote staff to attend.
Generally, it should be clear that employees should be available for remote meetings, and show up on time and be present during them.
Equipment and tools
In order for staff to get the work done, of course, they need the right equipment and tools. This can be a very important aspect of the working from home policy as it lays out maintenance and ownership issues as well as security, an increasingly important aspect of remote workforces.
Protection of company property
What efforts do employees need to take to protect company property? Do tools and equipment need to be serial numbered and tracked? Do tools need to be locked away at the end of the workday and how? How will company property be returned to the organization in the event of dismissal or other reasons? Generally, companies will stipulate a 48 hour period necessary before company property is physically taken by a company representative.
Maintenance and cleanliness
Remote employees should be expected to keep a tidy and healthy work environment. Outline any regular maintenance that should take place and what standards all remote staff need to abide by in terms of the maintenance of work property.
Stationery and supplies
What is the process for remote employees to obtain stationery and supplies? What is acceptable in terms of amounts? What is covered for reimbursement and what is not? Perhaps there will be a stipend provided for certain staff members that need access to stationery and supplies regularly.
What is the process for employees to apply for reimbursement of tools and equipment they have purchased for the home office? It is important to have input from your finance team here. Will your company provide any reimbursement for the costs of internet, power, gas, or other bills that contribute to the home office?
Is there a specific dress code that will apply to remote workers? What is considered acceptable dress for online meetings? It is very important to explain this in the policy so you can point to this section if you ever have issues with employees regarding dress.
What support will your company IT team provide remote workers and how will this support be done? Many companies will use something like Team Viewer to be able to control remote employees’ computers from a distance in the event of troubleshooting.
Security (digital and device)
Security is an important aspect for remote employees both in terms of the physical security of devices and the digital security of data and the flow of information. If your company has sensitive data, how will this data be handled from home? This means that remote workers will likely need to use either the company virtual private network (VPN) or something like Pure VPN, Private Internet Access, Nord VPN, or Express VPN to encrypt data.
How should remote employees store and destroy data? What kind of passwords should be used and should any form of two-factor authentication be used to login to work systems, portals, etc?
Any specific measures that need to be taken to ensure client confidentiality may need to be spelled out here.
Workspace setup and check-ins
Are there stipulations around the type of home working environment that is expected/preferred? In terms of health and safety, it may be necessary to require an approval process for home office environments to make sure they won’t lead to health issues for employees. Security audits may also be necessary for the physical space depending on the role.
Notice for on-site visits
How long of notice will the organization need to give remote employees if they want to inspect a workspace? Is this even something that is part of your working from home policy? As mentioned above, how will company reps collect company property in the event of dismissal? Generally, we have seen 48 hours as the timeframe in which the organization needs to give advanced notice for these visits.
It is worth noting that employees are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy while working from home so this section should not infringe on that right.
Liability and insurance (work insurance only covers work equipment)
How does workplace insurance apply to remote workers? What is covered in terms of injuries that may occur in the home office environment? What devices are covered when being stored at someone’s home? Generally, it will just be office property that is covered in loss insurance.
What is the expectation around taking time for dependent care? For some employees, they may be wanting to work from home in order to keep an eye on children or the elderly. What amount of time is reasonable to put towards this care during work hours? Are there any further accommodations that can be made available to parents that are working from home? Perhaps daycare can be partly covered by office benefits?
How will performance be evaluated while the staff member is working from home? How will check-in meetings be done to assess the success of the remote working agreement itself? We recommend arranging regular video check-ins once a week at first to get a sense of how the employee is settling into working from home.
Are there any specific tax issues that may arise due to working from home. Generally, the staff themselves will be responsible for applying for additional tax benefits that have to do with using a home office.
Revocation if necessary
Under what circumstances can the remote work arrangement be revoked? What is the process for this? Generally, evaluation criteria around work from home effectiveness and productivity will help to make any decisions around revoking the ability to work from home from a given employee.
Make it clear that working from home is not a reason for dismissal and that remote employees enjoy the same protections as office employees.
How to communicate your working from home policy to employees
First contact through email
If this is a new policy, an official company-wide email is the first place to start. Clear communication here is critical. Employees will often feel anxious when these types of emails go out, so be sure to acknowledge people’s apprehension. Also, be clear about this policy applying to ALL staff so people know that others aren’t getting special treatment. Make sure that the management’s door is open to questions and comments on the policy.
All-staff meeting to clarify to staff
Once an email is sent out, we recommend setting up an all-staff meeting to go over the basics of the policy, and more importantly, answer staff questions. It is likely that many employees will have burning questions as this policy is taking hold. Make sure people know where to access the policy and are particularly clear about the process they need to follow to work from home.
When onboarding new staff it is important for them to also know the policy around working from home. Start their tenure at the organization off correctly and make sure they are crystal clear about your remote work policy. For those new staff that are working from home, the WFH policy can help determine what areas need to be focused on by existing staff that are setting up and training the new recruit.
When interviewing potential future employees it is important that interviewers and HR reps know the remote work policy. Can this new candidate actually work from a different city? That is important information for new candidates to know. Keep in mind that if you are giving new candidates the option to work from a distance, that you should be giving this same opportunity to existing staff.
How do you know if your remote working policy is effective?
Evaluating the effectiveness of organizational policy can be difficult. But one way that is always beneficial is to allow those that the policy affects (the employees) to share their experiences in an upfront and participatory way. Give each of your staff time to give comments on the policy before it is written in stone. And once it has been in effect for a year, revisit it with your staff. Anonymous surveys can be very helpful here. Ask employees what is working well in the policy and what needs some work. Policies can be updated! Sure, it takes some time and some red tape, but don’t let a policy exist in its draft form. Tweak it so your staff can get the full benefit from it!
Try our remote working policy template
Well, if you go this far, that means you are probably ready to dive right into writing up a draft working from home policy. We have taken out a lot of the guesswork and put together a working from home policy template that you can start with. We hope it is useful in taking your organization a bit closer to having a fully realized remote teleworking policy.