The number of employees working from home has gone up dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic. Companies that plan to continue letting employees work from home need to formalize that arrangement with a telecommuting policy. Here are six topics often discussed in in this type of policy.
Before the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, only 14% of office-based workers worldwide telecommuted to work three or more days a week. In April 2020, the percentage surged to 84% due to lockdowns, according to the “Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey“.
What will happen after the pandemic? While the number is expected to go down, it is not expected to return to the pre-pandemic level now that employees at all levels have experienced the benefits firsthand. “Having had a taste, even under less than ideal conditions, employees are saying they want more,” said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, which partnered with Iometrics on the “Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey”. “The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going back in.” Lister estimates that 25% to 30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
Companies that plan to continue letting employees work from home need to formalize that arrangement with a telecommuting policy. This document needs to define the responsibilities, rules, and expectations for both the company and the remote workers. Clear, detailed guidelines can help prevent misunderstandings and help protect the company in case something goes wrong with a home office situation, according to experts. Because of the importance of this document, it is a good idea to have a cross-functional team create it and a lawyer review it.
Although a telecommuting policy needs be tailored to meet a company’s specific needs, there are topics commonly discussed in many of these policies. Here are six areas often covered:
Telecommuting policies typically describe the criteria used to determine who is eligible to work from home. For example, a business might base the decision on the nature of the employee’s job, how long the employee has worked in that position, and past job performance. This information lets employees know how the decision is reached and helps ensure the same criteria are being used for all employees.
- Availability Expectations
Many telecommuting policies state that the amount of time employees are expected to work will not change if they work from home. For example, if they worked eight hours per day in the office, they are expected to work eight hours per day in their home office.
Remote workers’ specific schedules do not need to be included. However, it is a good idea to mention the company’s general work policy (e.g., flextime is allowed, all employees must work 9 am to 5 pm) and any specific requirements for remote workers (e.g., employees can work from home up two days per week).
- Tools and Equipment
One benefit of telecommuting is improved productivity. However, remote workers’ productivity will plummet if they do not have the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs. Therefore, a telecommuting policy should discuss the types of tools and equipment the company will provide (e.g., computer, monitor, printer, business apps). Equally important, it should specify what the remote employees are responsible for providing (e.g., desk, chair, smartphone). Other things you might want to cover include:
- A discussion about who is responsible for paying the fees of any associated services (e.g., fee for ISP or phone service)
- A discussion about who is responsible for supporting and maintaining the tools and equipment (e.g., tech support)
- A statement mentioning that the use of the company-provided tools and equipment is limited to the remote employee for business-related purposes only
Some of this information might already be covered in other company policies such as an acceptable use or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. If so, you can simply reference those policies rather than include the information here.
- Office Supplies
Telecommuting policies often discuss who is responsible for obtaining and paying for office supplies such as pens, folders, copy paper, and printer toner or ink cartridges. If the company pays for the supplies but leaves it up to the remote workers to obtain them, you should specify the reimbursement process and whether preapproval is needed for certain types of supplies.
- Security and Privacy
A 2020 Trend Micro study of more than 13,000 remote workers revealed some troubling news. Many remote employees seem to be aware of cybersecurity risks and best practices, but they choose not to follow them. For example, 64% knew that running non-work apps on company devices is risky, yet 56% admitted to doing so.
To help remote employees transition from knowing what to do to actually doing it, you should clearly outline your business’s security rules and expectations in the telecommuting policy. In addition, you should provide the tools they need to follow those rules and meet those expectations.
For instance, when employees work remotely, there is an increased risk that they will use their company-provided mobile devices on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks. Thus, you should specify what they can and cannot do, such as they cannot use public Wi-Fi networks and they must use a virtual private network (VPN). Since VPNs are required, the company should install them on the remote workers’ company-provided mobile devices.
Similarly, you should outline your company’s privacy rules and expectations in the telecommuting policy. This is especially important if your business must comply with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Policy Abuse
Like other company policies, the telecommuting policy should discuss the consequences of not meeting the expectations or breaking the rules specified in the telecommuting policy. In this discussion, it is important to tell employees that telecommuting is a privilege that can be revoked.