A sudden transition to working remotely
Early in the pandemic, as offices shuttered across the world, many businesses found themselves confronted with an abrupt and unexpected entry into the world of remote work. Learning how to transition to working remotely presented challenges to both employees and employers alike.
For those companies, remote or work from home policies were nonexistent. Folks were sent home to do their best with existing tools or those that could be put in place quickly. The greatest concerns were about wellbeing and safety. And it was assumed that it would be temporary anyway – just a couple of weeks, after all.
Even companies familiar with remote work and had a couple of employees who worked out of the office were not prepared to scale so suddenly. (It even affected us here at Dominion, when overnight we went from just two remote workers to roughly 90% of our employees working remotely.)
A time of opportunity
The pandemic was a violent shove into the deep end of the remote work pool, and businesses have adopted new ways of working to stay afloat.
While sudden, challenging, and disruptive, the past couple of years have presented great opportunities for change and innovation. As some firms push return-to-work efforts with mixed outcomes, others choose to invest in hybrid and fully-remote workforces.
For any business with a distributed workforce, an effective remote work policy is critically important for sustainable work and employee satisfaction.
Creating an effective remote work policy for your business
If your company wasn’t already working with remote team members, it might have started out basing your remote guidelines on a storm day or temporary work-from-home leave protocol as a guide. Even if you’ve adjusted over time, a temporary policy isn't the same as a permanent one. It’s worth taking the time to create a solid, consistent, and compliant remote work policy for your organization.
According to Indeed.com, many companies still don’t have a remote work policy, even with a distributed workforce. Whether you’re revising or starting from scratch, your business will benefit from having an intentionally created policy. You will want to be sure that a human resource professional reviews your policy to be sure that it meets compliance regulations and standards, especially if your workforce is geographically diverse.
Best practices for rolling out your remote work policy
Companies that haven't created policies may struggle to understand how to implement a policy to standardize and clarify their expectations and requirements surrounding remote work.
A standard policy that both existing and new employees can understand makes remote workforce management easier, even if your company initially had a sudden transition to remote work. Whether you're planning to transition from office to work-from-home or using a hybrid work model, exactly how you'll implement your policy will be a process unique to your business.
- Get your HR team involved at the beginning, or contract with a human resources contractor who can help you create an effective (and legal!) policy. You may want to start by reviewing remote work policies and samples from different organizations.
- Let your workers know that a policy is being created. Provide avenues for employees to ask questions and have their concerns heard.
- Provide an estimated timeline so employees will know when the policy will be implemented.
- Ensure your communications, technology, and security tools are in place. If you have new expectations regarding communications, connectivity, time tracking, information access, or security requirements be sure that new tools are in place and have been thoroughly reviewed and tested before your policy is implemented.
- Define how different roles and responsibilities will be affected by the policy. Some work requires physical presence in the workplace, while other work may be accomplished from nearly anywhere. Define which roles may be affected and which won’t.
- Express that the policy may evolve and change in the future and that feedback is important. Some organizations have chosen to test the policy with a small group of employees before rolling it out for everyone.
- Provide training to any managers who will be responsible for remote employees. Understanding how to support both remote workers and in-office workers can be challenging. Make sure you've set aside time and funds to prepare managers for changes in their roles.
- Provide education and training for employees about the new policy. While everyone’s supposed to read the handbook and sign their acceptance, it’s worth taking the time to help employees understand a new policy. Presentations, written and video documentation, and small group or one-to-one meetings can support a smooth rollout.
- Learn by listening to employee concerns and provide space for questions. Empower employees to help improve the policy. Someone in IT may have valid concerns about security that were overlooked, and someone in marketing may uncover unclear language. Employees may have questions about doing work on personal devices or what consequences there may be for not abiding by the policy. Working with an HR team can be beneficial in explaining why pieces of the policy were put in place, for example, to communicate that prohibiting work from personal devices may be an issue of security compliance rather than one of mistrust.
- Establish an ongoing communications plan. Communication issues are often identified as the top concern when working with a distributed workforce. Plan when, how, and how often you'll have company-wide, team, and individual communications.
As with any change, some employees will embrace the change, and others may be uncomfortable with the change. Some will be quiet, and others vocal. A few may ask nearly endless questions, while others will need to be prompted to ensure that they understand the new policy.
Leverage the power of the human resources community
Human resources staff are often the go-to for a company when it comes to questions about compliance, laws, and new legislation. Large businesses often have a sizable HR team who can help manage their needs, but smaller companies may have an HR team that’s already overwhelmed keeping up with the business’ day-to-day needs. And some companies don’t have an HR pro on staff at all.
If your business doesn’t have an in-house HR professional, you can work with an outside partner. For example, all Dominion Systems customers can access the (COMPANY NAME) HR helpline. You could also reach out to an HR organization like SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. A HR professional can also assist after the rollout and help businesses manage the challenges of remote work, like new employee onboarding and ongoing employee engagement.