How to Adopt a Work-From-Home Policy for the Long Term
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
Recently, Twitter announced that its employees will be allowed to work from home for as long as they choose—not just until the lockdown restrictions lift. It isn’t the only company considering making its temporary work-from-home policy a more permanent fixture. Many that were once hesitant to offer remote work options for fear of dips in productivity and collaboration have seen firsthand that their workforces can thrive remotely. And after making the necessary investments to enable remote work at short notice, much of the infrastructure is already in place to extend this option for at least some employees in the long run.
This could bring huge benefits for companies and employees alike. Employees have been asking for more remote work options for years—in fact, in its State of Remote Work 2019 report, Buffer found that 99% of respondents would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career. Besides boosting employee morale, this could significantly reduce companies’ overhead costs. Just look at Dell: since it gave staff the option to work from wherever they choose, the company has saved roughly $12 million a year in real estate costs.
But laptops and cloud-based services aren’t the only components of a sustainable remote work program, and companies need to make sure they’ve got a detailed policy in place before encouraging long-term adoption. Here are a few steps you may need to take before rolling this option out to your employees indefinitely.
1. Determine who is eligible and provide clear parameters
The coronavirus outbreak has forced many employers to reevaluate which jobs are truly “impossible” to do remotely. For some, the issue was as simple as a lack of technology, a gap that has been bridged out of necessity during the pandemic. Others had data security concerns that, while valid, can be accounted for through VPNs, device encryption, and good cybersecurity hygiene.
But in some cases, companies’ stances on working from home had more to do with preferences than requirements. Managers wanted everyone to be physically present for all meetings, or didn’t trust that employees would work as hard if they couldn’t be seen. And even when restrictions begin to ease and employees start returning to the office, some managers may revert back to that old way of thinking—leaving some of their reports disappointed or frustrated. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page about who is eligible for remote work and in which circumstances they will be expected to come in.
For example, your leaders and managers may agree that employees can work remotely whenever they choose, with the exception of the monthly all-hands meeting and mandatory training days. Establishing clear parameters like this upfront helps set employee expectations at the right level, meaning no one will feel blindsided if they’re suddenly asked to travel for a meeting, while also allowing you to build in opportunities for in-person team building and bonding.
2. Establish consistent performance objectives for all
In a traditional office environment, managers often have a tendency to measure performance in terms of actions, not outcomes. It’s an easy habit to fall into: the employee who is the first at their desk in the morning and the last to leave at night may appear more dedicated and productive than the one who leaves at six o’clock on the dot, regardless of the quantity or quality of work they produce.
Remote work challenges this evaluation approach. With managers unable to look over employees’ shoulders, they’re more likely to assess their teams based on end results. But as some employees return to the workplace while others choose to remain remote, establishing clear and consistent performance objectives for all will be important in order to ensure fairness and discourage unhealthy work behavior. If this doesn’t happen, remote employees may feel pressured to be “seen” working longer hours for fear of being overlooked for opportunities and promotions.
This will require a mindset shift for managers, which may have already begun. But it will also require them to rethink their approach to performance reviews. Helping them move away from reviews based on perceived productivity and toward a more objective process built around employees’ progress toward key performance objectives (KPIs) will not only empower remote staff, but may create more flexibility for your workforce as a whole.
2. Factor remote needs into your benefits package
For employees who choose to continue working remotely most or all of the time, certain perks—like free lunches and on-site childcare—may become less relevant. At the same time, these employees may require different benefits to do their best work. This could include an adequate broadband connection, equipment to set up a productive at-home workspace, or (after lockdown) access to coworking spaces.
Consider surveying employees to see what benefits they would find most valuable should they remain remote, and speak to your finance and HR departments to find out what is possible. For example, you may decide to give remote employees a stipend on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis to cover their remote costs, but who will be responsible for managing this? Will you track spending manually or lean on a software solution? How will you maintain IRS compliance?
Regardless of what you settle on, transparency is critical. By establishing who is responsible for paying what and communicating this to employees and potential hires, you can put your company in a strong position to make remote work a viable—and attractive—option for years to come.
3. Think beyond the office
Putting policies and processes in place is only half of the remote work equation. To manage a partially dispersed team successfully, you need to create a culture that embraces remote workers and understands the value they bring.
Help recruiters and hiring managers broaden their mindset about what makes an ideal employee. Would they be willing to hire someone in a different country if that person was perfect for the job? What about a different timezone?
Employees, too, may need help adjusting to being part of a partially dispersed team. Encourage them to apply the lessons they learned during this radical remote work experiment—like communicating openly and often and staying connected through virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. Even if they don’t plan to remain remote, they may be better equipped to work with dispersed team members now they’ve had the experience themselves.
HR can also help smooth the transition by providing the same level of service to remote staff that on-site employees experience. In the digital age, employees shouldn’t have to drop into the on-site HR office to access vital information and support—and modernizing your processes can be beneficial to all.
Learn how HR Service Delivery technology makes it possible for HR to support employees no matter where they work from, whether that's a home office or out on the field without a laptop. Grab our eBook, Serving the Changing Workforce