This article first appeared in ICMI.
It’s essential to take time to create a robust policy statement about working from home. Why? Because this document is where you clearly spell out the responsibilities of your company, and your team members, in a remote work environment. Not only will your policy statement serve to clarify expectations, it will proactively address areas such as technology, expenses, and participation, as well as HR and legal concerns.
As you draft your document, draw on the expertise of your peers and colleagues at other companies who are willing to share their policies. Learn from their experience; it will ensure you think through all the facets you’ll want to address with your own work-from-home policy statement.
I’ve found most companies are eager to share their statements, and their expertise. In talking with hundreds of companies launching work-at-home team member programs, many have shared their policies with me.
Let’s take a look at some of the topics you’ll want to address in your policy statement:
Specify qualifying criteria
Qualifying criteria typically includes the following:
- Minimum period of time the team member has worked with your company
- Quality score of at least X% or greater for a period of Y months
- Has the candidate received any formal disciplinary actions in Z months?
- Has the candidate exceeded their number of sick days for the year?
- Has the candidate successfully completed required training (specify)?
If, based on business needs, you require most or all of your workforce to work from home temporarily, you may need to put some of these qualifying criteria to the side -- at least during the period of emergency. That’s one of the reasons why it’s imperative to include a clause that your policy is subject to change at any time, for any reason.
Ideally, your customers will have no idea they are talking with a team member who is working remotely. That means it’s important for the home work space to be fairly noise-free. A few questions you’ll want to address:
- While ideal, is a private work space or office a requirement?
- Is the workspace relatively isolated from noise and distractions?
- Is there a high-speed internet connection? Does it meet your minimum standard for speed?
- Does the work environment meet ergonomic criteria? (This may include an adjustable chair and appropriate lighting.)
Now, here is a sticky one - will you assess a prospective home team member’s work environment beforehand? If you’re requiring them to work from home in a pinch, you may not have the latitude to be as stringent about their workspace as you would under ordinary circumstances.
Nevertheless, from a worker’s compensation perspective, be sure their workspace is compliant with ergonomic requirements.
One company’s policy stipulates that injuries at their home work location are covered by their Worker’s Compensation policy. However, it also contains this clause:
“The Company shall not be liable for any injuries to third parties in the Employee’s At Home location. Employee agrees to indemnify, defend and hold the Company harmless from any loss, claim, damage, cost or expense (including but not limited to attorney’s fees) incurred by reason of any injury to person or damage to property on or about the Employee’s At Home Location.”
Be clear about who pays for what
You’ll want to remove uncertainty about expenses. This will require carefully thinking through what expenses the team member may incur, and whether your company or the team member will be responsible for them. For example:
- A laptop. Under ordinary circumstances, some companies require the team member to provide their own laptop. But if business requirements dictate the team member work from home, this is an expense you’ll probably want to cover.
- A noise-cancelling headset. Will the team member bring their office headset home, or will they need to order one? Do you have a preferred headset vendor, and will you cover the cost?
- High-speed internet. What is the minimum acceptable speed? If the team member needs to upgrade their internet equipment or speed, who will be responsible for the added expense?
- Equipment needed for ergonomic compliance, such as a monitor and an adjustable chair.
- Office supplies such as a printer, if needed.
- Postage, shipping costs, etc.
Will there be a trial period and/or performance requirements?
Under ordinary circumstances, many companies set a trial period to see if work-from-home is working for the team member as well as for the company. Policy statements stipulate the minimum performance requirements the team member must meet and maintain in order to work at home. If the team member doesn’t meet these requirements over the specified timeframe, what happens? Will the team member be asked to come back into the office, or will he or she be put on a performance plan or terminated?
One policy statement includes this clause:
“Unless prohibited by state law, this At Home Agreement in no way alters the Employee’s status as an at-will employee of the Company, nor does it create any contractual obligations, express or implied, affecting the at-will relationship between the Employee and the Company.”
For some companies, work-from-home is a business mandate -- for now. When you’re able to move team members back into the office, some may want to continue working from home. Will your company allow them to continue to do so? Or will it depend on a team member achieving and maintaining specific performance levels? Regardless, it’s a good idea to think through -- now -- what performance levels you will require today and in the future.
Team member and supervisor meetings
When team members are working remotely, you miss those daily opportunities for impromptu chats. Now it’s important to set up regular team member/supervisor meetings. Face-to-face meetings are important, and you can do that with video calls. Several technology companies are making that easy by providing free meeting options. For example, 8x8 Video Meetings provides free HD audio and video conferencing. With video, you’ll be able to more thoroughly assess the team member’s work environment and gauge surrounding noise/distractions (or hopefully the lack thereof).
Specify the frequency of touch-base meetings in your policy statement. And, make it a priority. Block the time in your calendar with each team member to ensure these regular meetings actually do happen.
Reserve the right to change your policy
Be sure to include caveats in your policy statement, such as “This policy is subject to change at any time.” You undoubtedly will need to modify it. The needs of your business are constantly evolving, and topics/issues will arise that you simply don’t think of initially.
Once you’ve created your draft policy, review it with your management, the supervisor team, HR, and legal. But first, run it by a few of your team members. They’ll likely have questions or suggestions that you can proactively address before you share the draft more widely.
One final suggestion -- draw on the expertise of your peers and colleagues at other companies who may be willing to share their policies. Learning from the experience of others will help your company be more prepared as you establish and tweak your own work-from-home policy statement.
When your policy statement has been reviewed and approved, go through it with each team member to see if they have questions or concerns. Finally, make sure they read and sign the policy statement before they begin to work from home. If team members are already working remotely, the policy statement is still a necessary document. It clarifies your expectations, removes ambiguity, and preempts the type of conversation that starts with “you didn’t tell me…” or “I didn’t know…”