Before COVID-19, working from home was a bit of a novelty. Not every company gave their employees the option, and it was often a privilege not everyone could exercise.
But as a result of the pandemic, companies that never considered offering remote options were forced to rapidly implement a work-from-home (WFH) model. Virtual offices and dynamic workplaces became nearly ubiquitous, and for some people, the privilege of working from home has become an expectation. Companies have discovered that it’s not only viable, but prudent.
In the post-COVID workplace, your office won’t necessarily be governed by the same kinds of health guidelines and restrictions we saw throughout the pandemic, and you’re going to need a modern work-from-home policy that covers all your bases and helps resolve potential pain points.
A WFH policy should be a unique reflection of your organization’s goals, culture, employees, and capabilities. It doesn’t matter what other companies are doing—you’re trying to find the right way for your company to handle virtual work moving forward. And that’s going to depend on your company’s unique circumstances.
This isn’t just some generic corporate document you can copy and paste from somewhere else. A poorly constructed WFH policy will frustrate both remote and in-person employees. And ambiguity or missing pieces could leave room for undesirable behavior, risky WFH practices, and overlooked employee wellness.
Your WFH policy should be a comprehensive guide to:
- Who can work from home
- How they’ll work from home
- What WFH arrangements you’ll permit
- Why working from home looks the way it does at your organization
You want your policy to preemptively answer as many questions about working from home as it can while also providing a clear, succinct explanation of what your company’s stance is. The more comprehensive you can be here, the more time you’ll save managers later, and the more clarity your employees will have about what it looks like to work for you.
To help you home in on the factors and areas that should have the most impact on how your company approaches remote work, we’ve pulled together nine tips for creating a WFH policy.
1. Define your intent
First and foremost, your work-from-home policy should explain the purpose of the document, what your employees should expect to find within it, and how it will be used and implemented moving forward. This should include a brief overview of your company’s approach to remote work and the kind of virtual workplace you intend to create.
You want employees to read this document and feel like you understand how their work preferences intersect with the kind of workplace you want to create.
2. Incorporate your company culture
Your company culture isn’t just a set of principles or personality traits. So much of your company culture is tied to things that happen in the building. Interactions in shared workspaces, break rooms, clubs, groups, events, and meetings have a tremendous impact on what it’s like to be part of your organization. And if your workforce is distributed, remote employees won’t be able to benefit from these on-campus interactions.
It’s not easy to replicate company culture in a virtual workplace. But you want remote employees to feel just as connected and included as your in-person workers. And that means making decisions about remote work in light of your culture, letting it lead you to new opportunities for employees to interact around their shared interests, develop relationships, and participate in activities.
Your company culture will also have more specific applications in regard to what working from home looks like. For example, if you have a strict dress code on campus—or no dress code at all—that should be reflected in your WFH policy. Otherwise every employee will develop their own approach to determining what is and isn’t appropriate attire for showing up to virtual meetings.
You may also need to address the type of environment you expect employees to present themselves in. For example, if remote employees have virtual meetings with customers or clients, you may want to provide them with materials (digital or physical) to standardize the background you want people to see when interacting with your company. Or, simple guidelines may be sufficient.
Whether people work on or off campus, as much as possible, you want it to feel like they’re part of the same company and they have the same opportunities. That’s all going to stem from how you translate your company culture into a virtual environment. And your WFH policy is where you’ll lay out what that looks like.
3. Create clear criteria for working from home
Without a clear work-from-home policy, employees will be left to their own devices to figure out how it works. And that can put managers in a difficult position of making decisions on their own or punting to someone higher up. Your WFH policy should define:
- The roles that can be performed remotely
- Who is eligible for remote work
- The approval process for working from home
- How to request the ability to work remotely
- The scope of remote work you’ll allow (number of days per week, per month, etc.)
- The more ambiguity you leave here, the greater the burden will be on team leaders, managers, and supervisors. Your policy should have accessible, transparent guidelines everyone can point to and fall back on, so that throughout your organization, there’s a shared understanding of what working from home looks like.
4. Set expectations for availability
Depending on your company, you don’t necessarily have to set standard working hours for remote employees. If someone’s role allows them to simply complete their work throughout the day and squeeze in errands and other responsibilities as needed, you may care more about whether the work is completed than what time of day it’s completed.
But that flexibility isn’t always possible. You may need someone to cover the phone lines during specific hours or perform time-sensitive tasks that other employees depend on throughout their day.
Either way, your work-from-home policy should outline expectations for when remote employees are “on the clock” or guidelines for how that should be decided in each case.
Your policy should also define how accessible employees will be when they’re working. Should someone be available for spontaneous meetings or chats whenever they don’t have meetings, much as you might swing by someone’s desk when you need to speak with them on campus? Can employees feel free to push back when there are conflicts with events and commitments that aren’t on the calendar? Or should all personal commitments be included on the calendar as well?
Setting expectations for availability is obviously valuable from a management perspective, but it can also be freeing for your remote workers too. Maintaining a work-life balance can be more difficult when you work from home, so defining a set schedule or giving people guardrails can make people feel less obligated to be available 24/7.
5. Allow flexibility where you can
Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits the work-from-home model provides employees. But the amount of flexibility it offers varies widely from company to company. And the more flexibility you can build into your policy, the more appealing it will be to employees and prospective staff.
If people feel like they can plan their work schedule around childcare, school, healthcare, sports, hobbies, life events, and other circumstances, working for your organization becomes an even more integral part of their ability to live the life they want. (Which makes it more challenging to find a job they’d prefer.) According to Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neely, many employees are reticent to give up their newfound work flexibility. “It’s critical mass,” she states. “Their culture as they’ve known it has changed. People, individuals, have changed.”
Note that intentionally incorporating flexibility is not the same as creating ambiguity. With ambiguity, employees and managers are left reading between the lines to determine what is and isn’t acceptable according to the policy. Creating more flexibility means your policy clearly accommodates a wider range of WFH models.
Keep in mind that employee preferences will determine the ways in which your flexibility will be most valuable. If a sizable percentage of your employees want flexibility to work from home or the office, you may need to dedicate more space to hoteling—workstations, rooms, and other space employees can reserve and use as needed. For others, “maximum flexibility” may simply mean the ability to work from home permanently. The only way you’ll know what flexibility your employees prefer is to ask, and then you can explore the ways you can satisfy the prevailing preferences.
The challenge is to balance flexibility against what’s actually possible for your business and what your senior leadership is comfortable with. If you have concerns that flexibility will interfere with performance, you may want to hold back here. If you don’t have enough real estate to give employees the freedom to work on campus whenever they please, you’ll need to create a system that lays out who can come in when. It’s easier to increase flexibility later than to decrease it after the fact.
6. Explain how communication channels should be used
Even in the corporate office, it can be frustrating when someone uses communication channels inappropriately. If a conversation involves a lot of back-and-forth interaction, a meeting is probably the ideal channel. If someone is simply relaying information and won’t involve discussion, a meeting can feel like a waste of everyone’s time. At some point, everyone has been in a meeting that could’ve been an email.
But using communication channels appropriately is even more critical in a virtual workplace, where you’re entirely reliant on digital communication and people may have vastly different work schedules.
There’s no shared breakroom, and employees won’t run into each other around campus. So it’s important to provide more informal channels for sharing personal updates and chatting about non-work-related topics. This helps keep your main channels free from off-topic conversations that can make it more difficult for people to find important information. Guidelines for using channels likely comes up in other places internally, and it may be something you communicate more informally, but it’s worth reinforcing in your WFH policy as well.
Remote workers have far fewer synchronous communication channels. It can also be more difficult for them to make time for real-time conversations. So your WFH policy should be explicit about how and when to use various video conferencing tools or phone calls, both to protect your employees’ time and to set expectations about availability (as discussed in point #4). You don’t want virtual meetings to be overused, and at the same time, you don’t want it to become too difficult to schedule them.
7. Consider how it will impact your office space
Any time you change the ratio of in-person, remote, and dynamic workers, it will affect what happens with your physical space. Your workspace optimization metrics are going to fluctuate as the supply of and demand for physical space changes.
Over the years, some companies have found that encouraging remote work has decreased their need for space so significantly that they could reduce their real estate portfolio. Those potential cost savings are certainly worth considering, but it ultimately depends on how much space your employees need.
The choices you make in your WFH policy will have a direct impact on space utilization. If, for example, you require employees to work in the office a fixed number of days per week, month, or quarter, you’re going to need a floor plan that includes enough hoteling space for employees to come and go as they need. You may also decide you want specific teams, departments, or roles to be in the office together at the same time, so people have to be on campus according to a set schedule.
While your company culture, employee preferences, and roles will drive many of the decisions you make in your WFH policy, you need to test how those decisions will work with the space you have before you roll them out. You don’t want to implement your policy and then discover a few months in that you misjudged how much space you would need.
With Tango Space, you can easily reconfigure your office layout according to your goals and ideas. You can test those “what if” questions and explore how various choices could change what needs to happen with your floor plan.
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However you do it, you need to explore the real estate ramifications of your WFH policy before you implement it.
8. Include security protocols
One of the major advantages of a corporate campus is security. You have far more control over who is and isn’t in the office, and who can and can’t access your network. When employees work remotely, your security protocols suddenly have to account for the fact that everyone is accessing the Internet from home, their favorite coffee shop, and other places that are far more vulnerable to cyber attacks and physical security breaches.
To keep everyone’s Internet connections secure, you’ll likely want to have a corporate Virtual Private Network (VPN) that remote employees can connect to from outside networks. This lets them access the internal resources they need to do their jobs without the potential risks of a public or home network.
It’s also worth including specific recommendations for how you’d like employees to ensure that they’re either working in a secure environment or taking additional precautions to prevent company resources and information from falling into the wrong hands, such as not leaving their computers unattended or using their work computer for personal activities.
With a virtual workforce, it’s important to consider ways in which your on campus security measures won’t translate to someone’s home work environment, and create solutions that keep your business secure.
9. State the limitations of this benefit
Inevitably, you’ll have some employees who simply can’t make this model work. And it may have nothing to do with their character or personal qualities.
Maybe they have roommates who can’t give them the privacy they need to be productive or attend meetings without interruptions. Maybe their schedule is simply too unpredictable, and it’s interfering with their ability to deliver work on time. Or perhaps their tasks and responsibilities are just too difficult to complete without access to campus resources, and it’s not feasible to purchase those resources for individual employees to have at home.
Whatever the case may be, your WFH policy needs to create a pathway for working from home to end if it becomes problematic. This should explicitly define how it will be decided if remote work isn’t panning out for an individual employee, and what will happen if that decision is made.
The modern workplace is evolving
The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the global digitization of work. Companies all over the world are adopting new tools and solutions, and learning to navigate the modern workplace.
To help you learn what is and isn’t working for organizations across the globe, Tango has built a free and growing collection of advanced insights from experienced professionals, analysis from the latest studies, and helpful visualizations. We call it Workplace 2.0.
Check it out.