With so many people working from home (WFH) these days, and likely to be doing so for the foreseeable future, companies are learning some best practices and recovering from missteps related to the policies and practices that must be in place to make remote work a success for all involved.
What are some of the must-haves that have been identified by employers, HR, and learning and development (L&D) leaders—and employees themselves—during this forced remote work experience?
We asked a number of people in the trenches—some new to remote work and some already experienced—to share their best practices and must-haves for making WFH work.
Home Office/Work Space Considerations
One foundational issue of any WFH situation is the work space itself.
Danielle Lackey, Chief Legal Officer at Motus, says, “Because work from home is now a requirement and will become a permanent part of normal work life for some workplaces, employers will also need to determine policies for how they will account for the costs that employees are incurring to do their jobs from home, including fixed and recurring costs for their mobile phones, internet and home office setups.”
“This will become such an important consideration to any WFH policy because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees earn at least the minimum wage net of any necessary business expenses they incur to do their jobs,” Lackey says.
There are also state-specific laws in a number of states that require employers to reimburse their employees for all necessary business-related expenses, regardless of their wages, Lackey adds.
“As a best practice, employers should clearly outline their policies for reimbursement,” she advises. “The most fair and accurate reimbursements should account for a number of factors, which can vary depending on the nature of someone’s job, where they live and the type of home set-up they require. This includes considerations like phone device costs, carrier costs, device insurance, internet speed packages, and state and local taxes.”
While some (many) may take it for granted, not all employees in all remote locations have equal access to high-quality Internet connectivity—or the required equipment to access that connectivity.
Chris Brenchley, cofounder and CEO of Surehand, a company that connects industrial professionals looking for work with recruiters in Morgan Hill, California, says, “In order to ensure that working from home is a success, companies need to conduct an audit of internet connectivity for all of [their] employees. Having a good internet connection is still not everyone’s fortune. If someone is facing connectivity issues, then you need to help them out with that.”
Connectivity is a must-have in these days of remote work. But it can also be a security risk. Therefore, it’s critical for organizations to have expectations of employees and policies addressing security to avoid inappropriate access to company, employee, and customer data.
Alan Duric, cofounder and CTO of Wire, says that well-thought-out cybersecurity policies are a major “must have” that many companies missed in original WFH plans. In fact, he says that “cyberattacks spiked by an estimated 400% in the first 4 months of the pandemic, as companies shifted employees to remote work.” To combat this risk, he suggests that:
- Cybersecurity education be added to companies’ WFH plans; and
- Policies be created around the tools employees should and shouldn’t use.
“Conversations that entail company IP, customer data, or other types of sensitive information should be reserved for tools you can trust, and be kept off platforms that have known security and privacy flaws,” he says.
Work Hours and Availability
Foster Mendez, founder of Spear Mortgage in Ontario, says that an important issue that must be documented in policies is the expectation about availability and responsiveness. If not explicit, this can lead to misunderstandings, he says.
“Some employees may think working from home is a green light for flexible hours while managers may require their employees to still be very responsive from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It can also cause frustration if one employee is on a flexible schedule while another is working the full 9-to-6, or if one employee is not as responsive.”
There’s a flip side to this, as well, Laura Handrick, contributing HR professional at Choosing Therapy and owner of an HR and business consulting agency, says: “Firms with hourly workers, like administrative assistants or call center staff, need to update their work policies to ensure that work isn’t done outside of work hours or beyond the number of max approved hours per week.”
Employers are required to pay for all time worked—and “yes, that means when they check their email at 2:00 am because you’ve sent them a message in the middle of the night,” even if they haven’t authorized that work.
“Failure to have a work-hours policy is likely to leave you on the wrong end of a lawsuit should the employee sue for backpay,” Handrick adds. “You can have the hourly employee work when they want and how long they want, that’s up to you; but, if you don’t want to end up paying for unapproved overtime, it’s best to update your policy.”
With remote meetings and tools like Zoom so prevalent in a remote world, having explicit expectations on participation in these meetings is important and can help avoid frustration for all involved.
For example, it can be very distracting for everyone if one or more meeting attendees arrive even a few minutes late. One expert that we spoke with suggests using a “five minutes early” rule. Everyone that participates in online meetings must show up five minutes early to avoid disruptions. It also provides attendees a chance to correct any connectivity or other technical issues that may arise before the meeting starts.
Another important policy issue to address is dress code. While you may allow more casual attire when employees are connecting with internal staff members, you may not want such a casual image when connecting with customers or clients. The choice is yours and will depend on your unique company culture, but the expectations should be explicit.
These policy considerations for WFH represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of the policy issues employers will need to consider in this new blend of remote and on-site work that is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.
It’s important when drafting a policy of any type to consult with legal counsel and ensure that all state and local laws and regulations are addressed.