Gay Jones & Kuhn Small Business Series
REMOTE WORK POLICY IS KEY TO SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL WORKPLACE

March 21, 2020

Suddenly, business owners are facing the challenge to shift workplace arrangements to allow employees to work remotely from home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but for many, remote working is new territory, which can create feelings of anxiety or uncertainty for business owners and employees who are accustomed to working in a more structured traditional work environment.  This is where a remote work policy comes in.  Having a policy in writing will help both business owners and employees to transition and operate effectively in the new work environment in which they find themselves.

How do businesses create a collaborative, productive virtual work environment?  A critical key to success of any remote working arrangement is communication.  Good communication starts with a clear, written remote work policy.  As a business owner, you need to establish clear guidelines and expectations when it comes to remote working to ensure you and your team members are on the same page.  Crafting a remote work policy also forces business owners to consider and think through possible implications and liabilities associated with remote working.  Will remote workers use their own equipment, or will your business provide equipment?  If remote workers use business equipment, are there restrictions on who in their households may use it?  How will you ensure data and sensitive information remain secure?  What happens if an employee is injured at their home while performing work for your business?  Is remote working only temporarily allowed or will it be a long-term situation?  How will you monitor performance and productivity without micromanaging your team?  These questions and more must be considered in creating a remote work policy that is the right fit for your business and your team.  Having a lawyer quickly review your employment manual and draft a new remote work policy will ensure your business is protected.

Here are a few essential components of an effective remote work policy:

Communication

Good communication is vital to successful remote working.  If you don’t already have a remote work policy, it will be helpful to draft one and provide it to employees as an addendum to your employee manual.  Ask each employee to respond to your communication confirming receipt and understanding, so that there is no question about expectations.  Your remote work policy should outline the preferred method of communication between you and your team.  The policy should contemplate the frequency of communication between the business managers and the employee.  While you don’t want to flood your remote employees’ inboxes with so many emails that they can’t get their work done, you also don’t want them to feel isolated.  Choose the best mode of communication for your business from conference calls, videoconferencing, instant messaging, etc.  Are there specific types of communication platforms they need to learn or test?  Let your team know how and when they can expect to hear from you.  Will you check in with everyone daily, 2-3 times a week, or weekly?  Letting your employees know this will help prevent them from feeling disconnected from you and their team.  Providing a designated HR contact to whom remote employees may bring issues or concerns may also be helpful.

Work Schedule

Business owners should be clear on their expectations of when work will be completed.  For some businesses, it may not matter if work is completed during normal business hours, but for others, completing work during specific daily times is important.  Now is not the time to be vague.  Your remote work policy should clearly state when employees are to complete their work and what hours you expect them to be available for calls and emails, as well as how quickly you expect them to respond to each other and to you.  Your policy should also cover how you and your employees will track hours worked.  If remote working is being offered as a temporary accommodation, your policy should explicitly state the temporary nature and that work hours will return to normal in the future. 

Children in the Home/Work Area

Remote working can be a challenge when thrust upon parents, especially those with small children.  But it can be a huge perk if done right.  Working parents need to be able to get their work done while balancing all that is happening in their homes.  What does this mean for children at home?  The answer to this question may depend on the type of work and work times you expect from employees.  If work times are flexible, encourage your employees to sit down and plan what works best for their homes to maximize periods of uninterrupted work time.  If your business needs employees fully engaged during set business times, you should convey this clearly in writing.  This situation may mean that if young children are at home, employees should consider an onsite caregiver or working with their spouses to create the time schedules necessary for their jobs.  Communicating expectations on work times and childcare now will help avoid conflict and stress later.

Equipment, Technology, and Security

Your remote work policy should outline whether remote workers are expected to use their own personal equipment or if business equipment will be provided.  You need to consider the security implications of both arrangements in making this decision.  If business equipment will be provided, your policy should specify exactly what equipment will be provided—computer, mouse, monitors, printers, office phones, mobile phones, etc.  Similarly, if there are certain items that should not be taken home or require specific permission, your policy should include a list of those.  Have a process for employees to “check out” the items they take home.  Be specific.  Your policy needs to be clear on guidelines and restrictions for the use of business equipment.  You may also want to address location of equipment—for example, work equipment should be located at your designated home work space/station. 

It is best to limit use of business computers to your employees.  Guidelines should also be clear on personal use of business computers, including social media use.  Social media and other internet usage may already be addressed in your employee manual.  If so, remind employees of those restrictions. 

If you do not already require employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement, now would be a good time to get that in place.  A non-disclosure agreement ensures that information, both electronic and paper, are kept confidential.

Your policy MUST include discussion on security and how it will be maintained.  Mike Lenoir, owner of technology support company Matrix Solutions, says, “You don’t want to sacrifice security for the ability to work remotely.  Make sure you have adequate anti-virus and firewalls in place and always require use of a secured, password-protected internet connection.  Regularly requiring updating of passwords for accessing your company network, files, and data will also help to maintain security.”  You should also address how confidential business files and data will be shared and accessed among your team.  If your business will provide IT/technical support, let your remote workers know that support is available.  Some remote workers may need additional technology training on collaborative technology tools your business will be using.  Be sure to mention that training will be provided or offered and that you will make additional support and training available if needed.

Put these expectations and guidelines in writing clearly.  Have your remote workers sign an acknowledgment that they have read, understand, and will adhere to any new policy.  Equally important to a clear, written policy is trust—you must have team members you can trust!  Listen to your employees’ concerns and have someone designated to answer questions.  Anxiety is often high with change, especially quick shifts in work arrangements. It is important your employees know you are all in this together. 

Need help crafting a well-written remote work policy?  GJK can help.  We are collaborating with businesses to help them minimize risks while transitioning to effective, productive virtual work environments.

Fondren Corner 2906 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39216

info@gayjoneslaw.com

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