Six things to consider to craft a remote work policy that doesn’t suck.

What a fantastic time to be alive! Am I right? Due mostly to advances in communication technologies, availability of high-speed internet access, and a suite of great tools at our disposal, as a workforce, we are now more than ever before able to explore the realities of working remotely. The bad news, though, is that many employers who are flirting with the idea of allowing flexible work situations don’t have the foggiest idea what they are doing or where to start when it comes to making remote work, work. The good news? It’s getting better every day.

On its face, it might seem easy enough to let Joe or Jessie work from home this week while they tend to a sick kid or travel to a funeral. Maybe Sam or Shelly are feeling a tickle in their throat and a day off-site might be just what the doctor ordered. However, making a one-time or occasional accommodation does not a remote work policy make.

What is a remote work policy anyway?

Simply put, a remote work policy is a document that outlines expectations for distributed staff. Typically such a policy would include things like best practices, definitions of who and how folks work remotely, the establishment of expectations, legal considerations, and more.

Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce, and nearly 47x faster than the self-employed population.(Source: Global Workplace Analytics, 2019)

If that isn’t evidence that times are a changin’, then I don’t know what is. One thing is clear, however, remote work, as a thing, is here to stay — and if it hasn’t gotten to you already, just know it’s coming in hot!

Things to consider when crafting an effective remote work policy

1. Decide who and how folks work remotely
From the jump, it is crucial to think through the who’s and how’s as it pertains to your forthcoming policy. Not every position lends itself well to being remote, and for that matter, neither does every personality. While the procedures you establish for the company may need to be globally applicable, pay special attention to the human element. Take pause to recognize that while most may be willing and able to work remotely, some may be best suited to work from home only on occasion. For others still, not at all.

Considerations:

  • Which roles are most likely to be done well if done from home?
  • What effect will remote work have on the collaborative efforts of the team?
  • How remote is remote? Are employees working remotely nearby, or are there issues that could arise from working across time-zones?
  • Are there legal or tax implications on teams that cross state or international lines?

2. Working well — and securely — without walls
Because of advances in communication technologies, it is now easier than ever to collaborate and coordinate effectively with remote teams. Slack, Zoom, Google Drive, and the like have facilitated revolutions in long-distance communication, but there is more to working well than a snazzy new MacBook and decent wi-fi. A safe, optimized, and dedicated workspace is key to the productivity gains commonly found among remote workers as well.

Considerations:

  • What software or technology will be used to facilitate intra-organization communication?
  • What is the condition of your remote worker’s workspace? Do they have all the tools they need to be successful in terms of hardware and software?
  • Are employees working over open networks (like those found in coffee shops or public places), and if so, are there data-security concerns?
  • Are you able to facilitate web-based, water-cooler conversations, or offer other solutions that allow off-site teams to get in a little social time?

3. Set clear expectations
Whether your team is working full-time apart or just occasionally from home, it’s essential to establish clear expectations that are fully understood and agreed upon by all parties. Many remote relationships fail because of breakdowns in communication and misunderstanding, so it is of paramount importance that everyone is on the same page.

Considerations:

  • How will you measure output/production?
  • Is there a time-period or general rule around the number of hours per day during which workers need to be available?
  • How will you handle managerial duties as they pertain to remote workers?
  • Manager 1-on-1s
  • Performance Rreviews
  • Team and company-wide meetings
  • Kickoff meetings/events

4. Make time for relationship development, collaboration, and socialization
The prevalence of technology has most definitely made it possible for our remote teams to be more collaborative from points unknown than ever before. However, with the good comes the bad. People crave real-life human interaction. It’s biological, and there is no fighting it. Despite the promise of an interconnected life leading to greater human connection, in many ways, we are further apart than ever.

Considerations:

  • How can you get creative to make sure that in-office activities can be experienced by your remote team?
  • Can you organize team retreats or get-togethers each month, quarter, or year to make sure that your remote and co-located (or remote only) team have the opportunity to socialize in person?

5. Take care of your team
Make sure to consider all the legal implications of employing remote resources when building your policy. Just because a worker may be off-site, they are still subject to the protection of much legislation written on behalf of workers. While requirements will vary by municipality, state, or country in terms of the specifics, rest assured there will be no shortage of rules and regulations to adhere to. That said, beyond what the law requires, your team is your team, so treat them right. Consider building into your policy things like liberal maternity/paternity leave opportunities, flexible paid time away from work, opportunities for growth within the organization, and so on.

Considerations:

  • How can you leverage progressive employee care programs to attract the best and brightest new candidates and retain existing teammates?
  • What kinds of things can you offer that are unique to your organization and will make it stand out in a crowded marketplace?
  • Is basic compliance with regulation sufficient, or are there easy ways to add value to your team’s remote working experience by going above and beyond?

6. Clarity around compensation
Many companies implementing remote policies can fall into the trap of thinking of remote work, work from home, or other flexible arrangements as perks to the job when in actuality they are just the job. As a result, when discussing matters of compensation and benefits, take care to avoid creating policies that ostensibly result in the teammate apart taking a pay cut.

Considerations:

  • Who pays for things like the internet, utilities, and other household expenses when an employee is working from home most of the time?
  • If an employee is working off-site from a co-working facility or other type of transient workspace, does your policy determine who’s responsibility it is to cover the costs associated with such places?

So, how do you know if it worked??

Of course, the best policy is the one you can measure. After all, if you cannot see the results of the policy you put in place, it’s impossible to know if your plan is working or not. To that end, a great policy should include well defined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and/or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that make results-based decision making possible. However, in any remote work policy, there will be aspects that are a little softer, less measurable, more people-centric, and in the words of Stuart Smalley, “that’s… OK.” The fact that you cannot measure some of the more intangible aspects of your policy presents an exciting opportunity to talk to your people, see what is working and what isn’t in their individual experiences and adapt.

Every team is different, and the way you’ll measure success will no doubt vary from role to role, and person to person. Putting in intentional work early to ensure clarity around goals, expectations, and outcomes will benefit not just the company, but it will serve your teammates apart as well.

What’s your take?

How do you manage remote teams in your company? What steps have you taken to promote clarity in communication across your organization? Any tips or tricks working for your team you could share with the community? Join me here in the comments or feel free to find me on the socials to take this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved — I am @ryanroghaar here on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram and click here to find me on LinkedIn.