In 2020, millions of workers worldwide went fully remote for the pandemic. As more of us get vaccinated and return to the office, many employers are allowing some of their employees to continue to work remotely 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 are five topics every remote work agreement should cover.
There are several models for remote work, including fully remote, distributed, and hybrid.
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.
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
You can only hire people who agree to live and work in your geographic area
Salaries may need to be higher if your team is in a high cost-of-living area
In this model, workers can work from anywhere in the world.
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
Coordinating across time zones and cultures can be tricky
Navigating salaries for workers in high-cost areas vs low-cost areas can be complicated
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.
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
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
It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time which job duties are eligible to be done outside the office. This will mean you won’t have to decide on a case-by-case basis. Not only is this less work, but it also reduces the risk of appearing to show favoritism.
Some roles are poorly suited to working from home. But others are more on the line. 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?
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 expectations 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?
Another thing to keep in mind is making sure your employees have access to the tools they need to do their jobs. Questions your policy should answer include:
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.?
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 space upgrades.
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 security? 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 and contact support? Do workers need to use a VPN?
Can workers work on their home computers or personal phones?
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?
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 remote work policy and agreement.