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The trend of employees working from home continues to grow. A 2017 Gallup survey found that 43% of Americans occasionally work from home — up from 39% of those who did in 2012. And a 2019 LinkedIn survey found that 82% of workers want to work from home at least one day a week, and 57% want to work from home at least three days per week.
Whether you have employees working from home one day a week, or you want to address an emergency situation that will require everyone to work remotely, small businesses need to establish a clear policy to get everyone on the same page. Here’s a simple template for writing your policy and adding it to your employee handbook.
Why have a work from home policy?
If you are in an industry where it makes sense to have remote employees, it’s an interesting perk to offer your staffers. If you’re thinking about recruiting and retention, teleworking offers a competitive edge as employees report higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress than those who don’t have a flexible work option. A huge majority of workers (82%) who telecommute said that they feel less stressed.
And as 60% of employers in a Society for Human Resource Management (SRRM) survey offer telecommuting regularly to employees and 56% offer that option on an ad hoc basis, it’s becoming more and more common.
It might also be a smart economical choice for your business allowing you to cut back on some overhead like real estate, energy expenses, and even payroll costs: A Princeton University study found job applicants were willing to accept 8% less pay for the option to work from home. And when there’s a major emergency, there simply may be no other choice.
As you develop your work from home policy, anticipating a variety of scenarios in advance will be helpful to make sure you cover the bases — and answer any questions from your team.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Eligibility — Who can work remotely? Is it strictly a policy you’ll implement during emergencies or weather safety concerns? Will workers be able to choose a regular day or two a week to work from home? Will your WFH policy apply only to certain departments or can all workers choose to be remote?
- Hours & availability — Will remote workers have the same schedule as when they’re in the office? Can employees set their own hours or is everyone expected to be available and responsive between certain hours like 9:00 am and 6:00 pm?
- Productivity — Will you track how many hours employees are working or what their output looks like when working from home? How will you handle it if people aren’t meeting those numbers?
- Equipment & support — How will workers acquire the equipment they need when they work from home? Can laptops, keyboards, mice, and chords be taken home from the office? Will they need to provide their own hardware? If so, will you recommend options or reimburse for purchases?
- Environment — How will you ensure they are in a safe workspace? Ultimately when your employees are on the clock, no matter their location, their safety is your responsibility.
- Security — What steps can you take to ensure secure remote access? Will workers be permitted to use public WiFi to access company files and data? Will you offer VPNs for accessing more sensitive material?
Exempt vs. non-exempt working remotely
While we think of exempt, salaried workers most often working from home, it is possible to have hourly or non-exempt employees working remotely. Time-tracking software or other ways of monitoring hours worked can be very helpful in this scenario. Remember that employers have to pay non-exempt employees for the hours they actually work, whether they are at home or at the employer’s location — and overtime rules from the Fair Labor Standards Act are still in effect.
Common challenges for employees working from home
Giving employees the flexibility to telecommute can make them really happy, but it can also create some inefficiencies. Here are a few common challenges you’ll want to anticipate as you roll out your WFH policy:
Lack of supervision. Most employees are used to checking in with their manager a few times a day. When everyone is working from home, those conversations may change from in-person morning scrums and afternoon sales meetings to messages on Slack or Google Hangouts. Some employees may need more or less supervision, so it’s important to plan for how your team will manage this when you’re scattered.
Productivity. Work from home productivity and functionality will be different than in-office work. For some, it may be more efficient, but for others, capacity and output may shift until workers become more comfortable in their new environment. Be understanding that it’s challenging for anyone to work in a new environment, and ask what you can do to help if you see a significant dip.
Isolation. People are social, and part of having a strong company culture is that your employees enjoy spending a third of their day with one another. Create regular check-ins for your team, put the best technology for your team to work, and offer emotional support when needed.
Distractions at home. Whether it’s kids also spending the day with their caregiver parent or a stack of laundry or constant news updates in an emergency, there are going to be distractions. Remember that there are also distractions at the office, just of a different variety. Did you know that the average office worker has less than three hours of productive time even when they’re in the office? Distractions will happen — and most of your team really wants to get their job done.
Lack of access. Not everyone in every job is going to be able to work from home. If you run a restaurant, retail store, call center, or medical facility, it’s next to impossible to have everyone work remotely and run your business. If you’re dealing with an emergency or critical event, consider options like staggered work shifts to allow employees to have more time outside your location as needed.
Expenses. According to the FLSA, “employers may not require employees to pay or reimburse the employer for items that are business expenses of the employer if doing so reduces the employee’s earnings below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation.” This requirement includes the things they may need to work from home. Be clear on who’s paying for what and how you’ll cover hardware or software expenses for employees to create their WFH space.
Something else you’ll want to consider as you develop your policy is what your telecommuting workers are supposed to do when your primary location or office has to close for an emergency like a weather event or power outage. Worker safety is of the utmost importance, so determine if you’ll follow a local school district for closings during snow events or who the point of contact is for checking in on delayed openings or long-term closures.
You’ll also want to consider whether you’re treating all workers fairly — and not require those who can work from home to do so if the rest of your employees have the day off.
Finally, before you create a formal work from home policy, make sure you think about the impact it will have on your company’s culture. Generally, it could tend to distance workers from each other and reduce the open communication needed to work together well.
That’s a lot of food for thought, but we hope you’ve found all the ideas and examples you need to develop a smart remote work policy.