The ideal remote work policy and agreement: A guide for companies

Remote Work Policy & Agreement

In 2020, millions of workers worldwide went fully remote for the pandemic. As some of us return to the office, many employers are allowing some or all of their remote employees to continue to work remotely full-time for the foreseeable future. Remote work has many benefits, including better work/life balance, increased productivity, less stress, and of course, no commute.

To fully realize the benefits and avoid some of the pitfalls of remote work, companies should implement a remote work policy as soon as possible. A remote work policy and agreement articulates what the company expects of remote workers and what the remote workers can expect of the company. By making these decisions and communicating them clearly ahead of time, you can avoid confusion and stress later on. Here’s a remote work policy template if you need help getting started. 

Here are six topics every remote work agreement should cover.

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1. Your remote work model

There are several models for remote work, including fully remote, distributed, and hybrid.

Fully remote (not distributed)

In a fully remote team, everyone works in the same geographic area, but no one comes into a central office. People generally work from their homes, coworking spaces, coffee shops, or wherever works best for them.

Benefits

  • Everyone is in the same time zone, which makes coordinating easier
  • It’s easy to set up face-to-face meetings, happy hours, etc. with the whole company or any set of colleagues
  • No commuting
  • Higher productivity

Drawbacks

  • You can only hire people who agree to live and work in your geographic area
  • Salaries may need to be higher if your team members live in high cost-of-living areas

Fully distributed

In this model, workers can work from anywhere in the world.

Benefits

  • Opens up your talent pool to the whole world
  • Hiring from low-cost areas can save money
  • Employees often value the flexibility of living where they want
  • No commuting
  • Higher productivity

Drawbacks

  • Coordinating across time zones and cultures can be tricky
  • Navigating salaries for workers in high-cost areas vs low-cost areas can be complicated

Hybrid

In a hybrid model, some employees work from a central office while others work from home in the same area or distributed, depending on your policy.

Benefits

  • Many workers appreciate the flexibility and choice
  • Workers who prefer to work in-person can take advantage of the office
  • It’s a good solution for companies in which some work needs to be done in-person
  • Expands your talent pool
  • Hiring from low-cost areas can save money

Drawbacks

  • You have to decide whether your non-office team is remote or distributed
  • You’ll need to decide how often and when non-remote workers come into the office
  • You’ll have to pay for an office
  • You’ll need to put effort into making sure your non-office workers aren’t at a disadvantage when it comes to pay and career development

2. Who’s eligible to work remote or distributed

Whatever model you choose, you’ll want to decide ahead of time which job duties are eligible to be done outside vs inside the office. 

This will mean you’re not implementing and deciding remote work arrangement eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Not only is this less work in the long-run, but it also reduces the risk of appearing to show favoritism.

Some roles are poorly suited to telecommuting. But others are fine. Sometimes it’s hard to know ahead of time which roles benefit most from being in-person. Keep in mind that your policy serves as a living document. If you find some roles work best remote or distributed after some trial-and-error, update your policy rather than continuing to follow outdated rules or making exceptions.

You should also include in your policy when, how, and how often work arrangements can be changed. For example, how much notice should eligible employees give management if they intend to move out of the area or vice versa?

3. Expectations for working availability

Your work-from-home policy should cover company policies and procedures around workers’ work schedule.

Have you ever gotten a Slack message from your boss at midnight and wondered what to do? As teams transition to distributed, remote, and hybrid work models, these situations are likely to become more and more common. 

Having Human Resources or People Ops set and communicate remote work arrangements around worker availability and response times at the outset can reduce stress and boost productivity for everyone involved. Companies should decide as soon as possible how, when, and where communication should happen.

Your policy should answer the following questions, at a minimum:

  • Should everyone work the same working hours, regardless of personal responsibilities, time zones, and personal preferences?
  • Are there certain hours during the day everyone should be available for synchronous communication?
  • How long is it okay to make your colleagues wait for a response?
  • Does expected response time vary by channel?
  • How often should remote or distributed employees expect to have to come into the office?
  • Do you require workers to use a certain provider for video conferencing, such as Google Meet or Zoom?
  • Which chat apps should workers use?
  • Are remote employees in different timezones required to attend all mandatory company meetings in real time or can they watch recordings later?

4. Working setup and equipment

Another thing to keep in mind when creating remote work arrangements is making sure your employees have access to the tools they need to do their jobs. 

Questions your policy should answer include:

  • Does your organization offer reimbursement for remote employees’ cell phones, internet connection, and improvements to team members’ workspaces?
  • Will you put in place internet speed requirements?
  • Will you give your workers a spending limit and let them choose their computers, monitors, office chairs, etc.?
  • Must every team use the same project management software like Trello or Asana?
  • Are you using a time orchestration platform to help workers manage their calendars and maximize their time management? 

All this should be spelled out in your policy so workers and managers know what to expect.

For example, Clockwise is using a hybrid model. Since all Clockwise employees will work remotely for at least a portion of each week, all employees are eligible to expense up to $500 (one time) on home office workspace upgrades.

5. Tech support, safety, and security

Along with the equipment question, you should also address how you’ll ensure remote/distributed workers have a safe and secure work environment. 

Questions your policy should address may include:

  • Do you have restrictions on where employees can work based on safety and cybersecurity? Maybe coffee shops with unsecured WiFi or coworking spaces that are poorly ventilated or maintained are out.
  • For hybrid workplaces, how are you ensuring the office is safe and hygienic?
  • When it comes to remote/distributed workers, how should they connect to the internet? Do workers need to use a VPN?
  • Can workers work on their home computers or personal phones? What’s your BYOD policy? 
  • What’s your acceptable use policy (AUP)
  • How will you make tech support available to remote workers?
  • Do you expect workers to consent to remote control of their devices during sessions with tech support staff?
  • What’s your policy on downloading unauthorized software?
  • Are workers required to consult the IT team before responding to suspicious emails?
  • Can workers adjust network security settings?
  • Must workers password protect all confidential documents? Which documents are confidential?
  • What are your data encryption standards?

6. Location, location, location

Your work-from-home policy should cover company policies and procedures around work location. It should address any existing remote location requirements.

Questions your policy should address may include:

  • Must workers live within certain timezones or at least work within certain timezones?
  • Do you allow, and will you reimburse, the use of coworking spaces?
  • If coworking spaces are allowed, are there any restrictions on coworking spaces?
  • Are there any other restrictions around location, such as that it be free from distractions?

Bonus

Here are a few more things you might want to include in your policy. First, if there’s an employee handbook, make it clear what, if anything, in that handbook applies to remote employees as well. For example, if your handbook includes a dress code, does it apply the same to remote workers? How about issues like attendance, conduct, confidentiality, PTO, data privacy, and security?

Second, for workers who come into the office, lay out your policies around meeting room booking, kitchen usage and cleanup, when it’s okay to be in the office, etc.

Going forward

If you’re still stuck, check out these remote work policies, courtesy of iofficecorp:

For many businesses, 2020 proved that remote, distributed, or hybrid work models can work. The key to making those models most effective going forward is to set, communicate, and regularly update your norms through a comprehensive remote work policy and agreement.

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