So you want to create a remote work policy for your business? Congratulations, and welcome to the club of business owners who have sought greater flexibility as entrepreneurs.
Some of us are telecommuting converts who recognized the business benefits of working remotely year-round, while others are business owners adapting to sudden economic and cultural changes like recessions and public health crises. In either scenario, transitioning brick-and-mortar business operations to remote practices that can be effectively performed from virtual environments can be intimidating – but it is a business goal that is very much within reach.
These eight tips for business owners adopting remote work policies for the first time will help entrepreneurs ease into telework with clarity and confidence, as well as write foundational remote work procedures upon which they can build lasting telecommuting plans:
1. Research remote work policy plans from companies you admire.
This brainstorming phase is critical for business owners planning first-time remote work policies. First, create a list of large-sized or recognizable employers whose general business practices, philosophies, and company cultures you admire. Companies with household names and widespread appeal are more likely to publish remote work policies in an accessible public forum.
Next, research these employers and explore their websites for information about how they utilize telecommuting within their organizations. Chances are, most already have some form of partial remote work policies or telework contingency plans in place. For comparison, you could also conduct an online search of 100% virtual businesses and read about how those companies operate in a telecommuting space on a permanent basis.
For example, the company I co-founded 13 years ago is 100% virtual, meaning all our employees and contractors work from a non-centralized location and are not required to travel for work. Some fully virtual businesses, however, may require employees to attend bi-annual meetings or an annual company retreat while otherwise working remotely. Consider how you want your remote work policy to function.
In addition to conducting independent research of online remote work plans, you could also reach out to fellow entrepreneurs in your business contacts, professional organizations, and social media spaces, like LinkedIn, for their tips and advice on essential remote work policy inclusions. Network with fellow entrepreneurs, putting out a call for them to share their stories about implementing remote work policies for their businesses, and ask:
What they know they got right;
What they wish they had done differently;
How their businesses have improved since implementing remote work policies; and
How they have addressed telecommuting challenges.
2. Consult business operations experts.
Before you take a deep dive into your new remote work policy specifics, consult with specialists in the financial, legal, and human resources sectors to advise you on any policy issues that could arise related to budgeting and taxes, employment laws, and geographically dispersed staff. These experts can keep entrepreneurs abreast of rules and regulations to be followed when formulating and executing remote work policies.
In addition to ensuring legal compliance of business owners, it is equally important that these specialists guide entrepreneurs on how to support employees and inform them of their rights.
3. Create your remote work policy purpose.
After sourcing inspiration for your remote work policy and consulting with business operations experts on the legalities of your forthcoming business model changes, you should formally determine your remote work policy purpose. The purpose of a remote work policy is the mission statement of the telework arrangement. Your purpose statement should clearly describe why and when the remote work policy will be implemented, as well as name any company-wide goals or objectives you have for your business once the policy is activated.
4. Consider the permanence of the remote work arrangement.
When drafting your remote work policy, it is important to consider the length of the telecommuting plan. A temporary policy in the event of a national or state emergency, such as a natural disaster or the spread of a communal illness, would act as a safety measure so your business remains functional while your workers are protected. Businesses that would not normally rely on remote work in day-to-day operations could return to customer-facing and onsite activities once the crisis has passed; however, if your business model is flexible, think of establishing immediate directives that you could not only implement during a sudden disruption but also transform into enduring remote work arrangements for employees.
Temporary or contingency telecommuting policies could help you evaluate which employees are necessary in an onsite capacity and which employees could work from home full-time or on a flex-time schedule in which they split their weekly time between a physical company location and a home office. You may be surprised to find that most occupations – even among surprising career categories like training, recruiting, engineering, and nursing – can be performed from a remote location.
5. Decide how team members will work remotely.
Employees should be provided with clear instructions about how their departments, and their respective roles within those departments, will conduct business in a remote setting. Keep in mind that while most remote occupations can be performed outside of a physical office, some roles may not work as seamlessly in virtual spaces.
All employees should be provided with guidelines that address these concerns and outline strategies for success. Here is a suggested list of questions any new remote work policy should address relevant to how team members will work remotely:
Can all roles remain functional and equally productive when performed from an offsite location?
Which roles, if any, will require job description or job performance updates in order to transition to telecommuting positions?
Will any roles require new resources, equipment, or software in order to be performed remotely?
What steps will you take to ensure open lines of communication between employees and managers, across departments, and from executives to department managers?
How will you ensure continued employee engagement and collaboration through remote workspaces?
What strategies will you use to continue to strengthen team bonds and facilitate positive company culture among your onsite and offsite employees?
6. Outline expectations for all departments and roles.
Answers to the questions asked in tip No. 5, and more, should be outlined within your remote work policy as expectations for departments and individual roles within your organization. These are three key areas to feature in remote work policy expectations:
Chain of command: Employees at all levels should be presented with a company hierarchy and a clear chain of command for seeking managerial approval on assignments or tasks, making requests, contributing to projects, asking and answering questions, receiving and providing feedback, and escalating issues that may arise.
Administrative functions: Business owners should also reiterate administrative process expectations or clarify changes to actions like submitting and paying invoices, completing and receiving tax forms, conducting performance reviews, and requesting time off or reimbursement for itemized expenses.
Reporting: This expectations section is crucial to determining the success of your remote work policy and business. Individual employees, as well as department and division managers, should be provided with directives on how they must log work hours and activities, check in with managers, document project progress, plan events and upcoming work assignments, assess objectives, determine benchmarks, and meet deliverables.
My organization uses a variety of remote-friendly project management and collaboration applications to meet expectations objectives. Tools like Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Weekly10, Less Annoying CRM, and Whereby provide our remote team members with the resources they need to effectively and appropriately complete their work while also remaining connected on a level comparable to or exceeding that of onsite teams.
7. Select any benefits or essential remote tools that will be provided.
Company-provided benefits and essential remote tools provided to telecommuting employees as part of a remote work policy are highly individualized factors that will vary based on elements like company/employee need, the company's financial health, the nature of the company's business, and security concerns relevant to the company's industry and clients.
To help you determine which, if any, benefits or essential remote tools (e.g. hardware, devices, and paid software) you will provide to your team members, consider these questions and how they correlate with your company goals:
Does your business collect or process sensitive customer data?
Would you feel comfortable with your team members working while using a public Wi-Fi connection at a coffee shop, restaurant, library, or coworking center?
Will much of your remote team's meetings be conducted via live video chat?
How often do you hope to connect remote team members with remaining onsite staff?
If onsite employees use company-provided premium software to conduct business, will offsite employees be provided with complimentary accounts or reimbursed for at-home software downloads critical to their roles?
Given the sedentary nature of desk-based jobs, many of which are occupations conducive to remote work, will you support remote staff with health plan funds or free gym memberships?
Will employees be offered incentives for professional development in the form of tuition reimbursement for higher education or professional certifications befitting their roles within the company?
8. Establish metrics for the success of your remote work policy.
Admittedly, calculating the success of a remote work policy is more nuanced than evaluating traditional business metrics like customer growth and net profit margins. Remote work policy success should be evaluated based on a combination of the traditional business goals you have set for your team in addition to how your team works to achieve those benchmarks within their virtual environment.
As a hands-on CEO working directly with division and department managers within my organization, as well as some contractors, I have grown to appreciate and favor results-driven metrics for many of our operations—ones that do not rely on quantifiable evidence like customer service tickets answered or services purchased during a sales promotion. Results-driven metrics are a core element of my remote work policy that also resonate with my team.
With results-driven accountability, we focus more on end-products and fine-tuning the processes to produce those products rather than expecting team members to put a certain amount of hours into a project or complete a superficial checklist that looks like it would indicate project effectiveness but does not ultimately influence success. While I encourage business owners to consider results-driven metrics for first-time remote work policies, ultimately all entrepreneurs must decide what works best for their needs, as well as the needs of their team members and company.
Whether you plan to make a fundamental policy shift from a physical office to a virtual work environment or seek a temporary solution to protect your company and staff in a time of crisis, establishing a remote work policy for your business is a modern and practical solution for entrepreneurs who value flexibility. As you work to achieve your goals and explore the best options for your business, these eight tips for adopting first-time remote work policies provide business owners with a framework for implementing their plans on a short-term or long-term basis.