Prior to COVID-19, the future of work was already heading toward flexible schedules with telecommuting options. The pandemic has only sped up that trend, as thousands of companies have made the shift to some sort of remote workforce.
Remote work has perks for both employers and employees, but companies that are making a more long-term or permanent switch to a remote environment post-COVID can help the transition be successful by ensuring a smooth transition, excellent remote management plans and a well-devised remote work policy.
What are the best remote work practices for businesses?
To help ensure remote work is a success across your organization, follow these best practices for remote work:
1. Maintain a company culture.
Some employees choose an employer for its company culture. Whether your company is only recently remote or has always been, maintaining the culture that attracted employees to your organization in the first place can help keep employees happy and working for your company. For example, if your company had to go remote because of COVID-19, you could support a caring culture by broadening your wellness benefits, like Actualize Consulting did. Previously, the $750 wellness benefit available to each employee was for use toward a gym membership and fitness purchases such as treadmills and classes, but it can now include child-related expenses, such as tutoring and day care.
As another example, Sarah Danzl, head of global communications and client advocacy at Degreed, said that a priority for her was to ensure the holistic care and mental health of her team with regular check-ins, specifically to ask about how they're doing and dedicate some time to non-work chat. Degreed also provides access to mental health support and wellness options like the Calm app, and it introduced companywide days off to help people recharge during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Use video tools to stay connected.
Working remotely can be difficult for people who strive for face-to-face interaction. Utilize the best practice of acting as if you and your team are in the office with the help of technology. Consider keeping spirits high and teams connecting by hosting a Friday video happy hour, video team meetings, and virtual employee lunches. The goal here is to stimulate activities that would done in the office, outside the office.
3. Go paperless.
Just about everything can be done digitally these days. Use a tool like DocuSign for contracts that need signatures, and encourage employees to lean on customer relationship management (CRM) software and other digital tools instead of paper for notes, project management and other tasks.
4. Invest in internet security.
A network is only as secure as its weakest link. As a result of COVID-19, many companies have ordered their workforces to work remotely. As a result of more people working for home, weak security links are inevitable. By investing in internet security, you can provide (and even mandate) the tools that keep everyone's devices safe. This, in turn, keeps company information safe. Most importantly, it minimizes the risk of personal data being leaked through a vulnerability in your infrastructure.
At the heart of your internet security is a virtual private network (VPN). It allows for direct, safe communication between all remote workers and the office.
5. Consider employee monitoring.
Employee monitoring is necessary in large organizations. A significant part of leadership and management is keeping people on task; however, with remote work, that becomes challenging.
Employee monitoring systems allow you to see a worker's computer activity. This informs you as to how much of a workday is actually spent on work projects and tasks. Employee monitoring solutions allow you to track productivity with the work-from-home model.
6. Accommodate flexible work schedules.
There are many benefits that come with remote work such as reduced overhead and lower liabilities, to name a few. If, though, remote work is hastily or poorly implemented, the downside is lost productivity. The key to preventing lost productivity (which can be hard for a company to come back from) is to allow employees to work a flexible work schedule.
Many at-home employees are juggling child care and school. Flexible work schedules empower them to find a better work-life balance that enables them to work productively around their kids' schedules. One suggestion to make this transition more smooth for your company and team is to shift to a completion-based work model. In this model, the focus is less on how many hours an individual works but on what they accomplish.
7. Invest in collaboration tools.
Collaboration tools are everywhere. Some of the biggest names to rise to the top include Skype and Microsoft Meetings. Of course, the most popular by far in Zoom. These tools allow for adjustable online workgroups. They include video and audio chat, and they allow for screen sharing.
You can also look into apps that created shared workspaces. File sharing systems are similarly important. You can even look at dedicated communication servers with resources like Discord and Google Chat.
Editor's note: Looking for the right employee monitoring software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
How do you create your remote work policy?
Your remote work policy sets the standard for what you deem acceptable and unacceptable from your remote employees. Every remote work policy should have conditions that ensure clear expectations and communication between the company and each remote team member.
Sample remote work policy
Hiring company Betterteam offered a sample policy that outlines what a sample remote policy should include. We've listed the key points and combined some of Betterteam's tips with our own.
What constitutes remote work eligibility? For example, an employee who has a job that can easily be done from locations other than a traditional office might be eligible, while an employee who works in a warehouse with specific equipment that cannot be accessed from home may not be. Eligibility may also depend on specific characteristics of the employee. For example, look for the following traits:
2. Rules and other company policies
In this section, lay out conditions as they relate to your employee handbook, such as maintaining confidentiality and adhering to your company's paid-time-off policy.
3. Work expectations
What expectations do you have for your employees? For example, you may not care what days and hours they work as long as they meet their deadlines. Or, conversely, you may want them to work during a standard set of hours.
Determine your communication standards. Here are some examples of policies you may want to include:
- Employees must be available on company chat at all times except while they are in meetings or out to lunch, at which time they are to set an away message.
- Employees must be available and respond to all management inquiries during normal business hours within one hour.
- Employees must notify their team when they sign on for the day and go to lunch.
In addition, you may want to specify when people should use phone calls versus virtual meetings. For example, virtual meetings may be best for planning meetings, as they offer a more personable approach than regular phone calls do. Virtual meetings are also typically better for collaboration. Phone calls are best when someone has something quick to discuss that would be too complicated or long to explain via email or instant messaging.
5. Insurance and liability
Just because employees are working from home does not mean they should be excluded from company benefits, such as health insurance and 401(k) plans. Remember, if you treat your employees well, they are more likely to stick around. Identify which benefits and insurance types you'd like to offer.
Because most businesses have access to sensitive customer information, having a security policy can help protect critical data and your company. Identify your company's security measures, such as having all files saved on a secure network.
Because remote workers do not have commuting-related expenses, if you currently pay a travel stipend, be sure to note in your policy that this is not included. But what about internet and phone expenses? The norm is to supply remote workers with a company phone but not cover at-home internet costs. In addition, state the eligibility requirements for promotions and salary increases at your company.
How to transition to remote work
For companies that are new to remote work, laying down a foundation for a smooth transition is the key to a productive remote work team. Here are some steps you may want to follow:
1. Have a remote work policy. Draft a remote work policy that clearly communicates what your expectations are for your employees.
2. Maximize technology. Technologies such as video conferencing and instant messaging make remote work a more personable and collaborative experience.
3. Hold virtual "hype" meetings. Get your team excited about your company and its goals through some team bonding by holding a weekly or monthly hype meeting. During these meetings, encourage employees to talk about some of their accomplishments, and be sure to give out praise where it is due. Use this time to get employees excited about new projects and clients.
4. Encourage engagement. Let your employees know you want to hear their feedback about remote work. Be sure they know you want to hear both positives and negatives. Getting that feedback will help you refine your remote work policies. Also make sure you are available to answer any questions employees have about the remote work policies.
What remote work equipment do your employees need?
Consider providing your employees with the following types of remote work equipment:
A collaboration tool helps workers stay connected. To save time and money, your collaboration tool should also serve as a complete project management, communication and productivity platform. Here are a few of the best tools for this type of work:
- Salesforce CRM: Keep track of every customer, automate tasks and send targeted emails.
- Trello: Get access to boards, lists and cards to track and organize projects.
- Asana: Manage goals, organize projects, set deadlines and more.
Video conferencing service
A video conferencing service – such as Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting or Zoom – lets users make video calls and host internal and external video conferences.
Whether via a mobile phone or a business phone system, employees need to be able to call not only one another but also clients and vendors.
Instant messaging service
It can save your employees time if they can send a quick instant message via a chat tool, such as Slack or Google Chat, instead of texting, calling or emailing.
If you expect your employees to work effectively from home, it's wise to provide them with a computer that is preloaded with all of the applications and security features you want.
How to be a good remote manager for your remote team
As a business owner or manager, you can expect your team members to look to you for leadership and guidance. While they won't be able to physically knock on your door, you still need to be there for them. Here are some tips for how to be a good remote manager:
1. Keep communication open.
Let your employees know you are available for them, and don't just wait for them to come to you. Be proactive by checking in with them regularly. When applicable, offer feedback and words of encouragement. Also, be sure to make time to meet virtually and to hold performance reviews.
2. Give great direction.
Whether working in the office or remotely, employees appreciate a manager who is a clear communicator and offers clear direction. For example, when you give employees instructions, make sure you are direct and offer enough information for your team to fully understand what you need. Poor communication results in frustration and lost productivity.
- Be empathetic. With the dog barking, the kids crying and the neighbor mowing his lawn, it's not always possible for remote employees to have a distraction-free environment. But as long as your staff members get their work done by their deadlines, be empathetic about at-home demands that may pull them away from their work for a few minutes each day.
- Stay organized. If your kitchen or living room doubles as your home office, it can be easy to get disorganized. Use calendars or project management tools to keep your tasks organized and stay on top of your game.
What are the benefits of remote work?
Remote work can be a win-win for employers and employees.
Remote work benefits for employers
- Cost savings: Without office space, there's no commercial real estate to pay for, or any of the expenses that come along with it, such as utilities and office furniture.
- Improved employee productivity: Without having distractions from loud co-workers, many employees are more productive.
- Lower absenteeism rates: When people don't feel well, they may be more likely to take time off of work if they have to go into an office. If employees have minor symptoms, they may feel more comfortable working from the comfort of their home, where they also will not spread illnesses to co-workers. As a result, employers can expect lower rates of absenteeism.
Remote work benefits for employees
- Improved work happiness: Studies have shown that working from home is a perk that boosts employees' happiness. In a study from Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, full-time remote employees said they were happy in their job 22% more than employees who never worked remotely.
- A more comfortable environment: There is a good chance that your employees aren't thrilled with your office environment, whether it's an open office layout or a cubicle farm. By working from home, employees are free to create a more comfortable workspace.
- A healthier workplace: When employees work from home, they don't have to worry about co-workers getting them sick. Even before COVID-19, the flu and other sicknesses spread easily among employees in the office.