While every company must have standards for the office environment, the modern workplace extends far beyond cubicles and watercooler chit chat. As more companies allow remote work (such as working from home or a coworking space) rules and standards adapt to include new working models.
If your company allows or encourages remote work, now is the best time to create a clear policy. It will avoid problems down the road and ensure a better and more structured employee experience.
Here are some important things to consider when creating your remote work policy.
1. Determine Who Can Work Remotely
While many employees may jump at the chance to work from a cozy coffee shop, it’s not feasible for everyone. For example, roles that coordinate in-person training sessions and meetings may face more challenges telecommuting than a web developer or copywriter. Establish which roles or teams are best-suited to “work from anywhere,” and state them clearly in your policy.
Keep in mind you can also offer remote work on a part-time basis, such as two or three days per week. Employees should be expected to schedule any telecommute days around important in-person meetings. Include in your policy which positions can work remotely full-time, which can work from home on an ad-hoc basis, and which must be in-office at all times.
2. Create Clear Expectations for Availability
If your company allows remote work, you will inevitably get questions from people about where and when they need to be available. You can, of course, set required working hours such as 9 am – 5 pm EST. But you can also allow employees to work in any timezone, or limit it to only nearby timezones.
One popular alternative is to set core work hours and allow for the other required weekly hours to be worked at any time. This is a great way to accommodate a variety of childcare or school schedules across the country. Many companies also offer another alternative: allowing employees to set their own schedules three days per week. Last but not least, the most flexible policy is to let employees set their own schedules entirely, as long as tasks are completed on time. This policy works best in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
3. Set Rules for Communication
Set clear guidelines around expectations for communication, such as:
- Preferred methods of communication – whether it’s a messaging app (e.g., Slack), email, or if you expect team members to answer all your phone calls during designated working hours
- Expected response time and a specific protocol to communicate if something is more urgent and requires an expedited response
- Frequency of check-ins (hint: you should be scheduling regular meetings with your remote employees)
- Let employees know how often, and how far in advance to notify you when they’ll be working remotely
- Determine the types of meetings where an in-person vs. remote presence is required such as team kickoffs, client meetings, performance reviews, and project updates
The key is to make your expectations known in advance to avoid frustration and unnecessary stress for all parties.
4. Rethink Your Performance Metrics
Remote workers are typically expected to meet the same deadlines and standards of performance as in-office employees. However, unless you implement a screen monitoring tool (such as TimeDoctor) it’s not possible to actively monitor the number of hours worked, so you may need to adjust your productivity metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for remote workers.
Project management software like Asana or Confluence can help make tasks and workflows more transparent. Or, your policies can focus more on output rather than hours worked. For example, your CPA firm may ask employees to handle a certain number of tax returns or customer calls during a given shift.
However you decide to organize your KPIs and performance standards, be sure to set clear guidelines and goals for employees.
5. Establish Standards for Equipment
Regardless of where they are physically, your team will need certain tools and equipment to help them do their best work.
Will your company provide equipment for remote workers, or will they be expected to provide their own? If it’s the latter, make sure you cover your bases with a written “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy. Create clear requirements for acceptable use, supported devices, security, and procedures for reimbursement, if any.
6. Make Security and Confidentiality a Priority
We know that auditors and CPA firms have unique concerns regarding keeping information confidential and holding onto required information. Protecting your firm’s information while allowing remote work is easy if you have the right tools in place.
- Provide your employees with a virtual private network (VPN). When you require them to use the provided VPN, you add privacy and security to otherwise vulnerable public networks.
- Establish a password manager or password “vault” that stores passwords and lets you take more control over which employees have access to important accounts and easily change and communicate updated passwords in a secure way
- Create guidelines for appropriate methods of communication for substantive information to ensure it’s easy to comply with information requests by subsequent auditors or subpoenas
- Implement reliable digital file storage to ensure compliance with mandatory data retention (e.g., 7 years for audit workpapers)
7. Include Employees in the Conversation
Finally, as you develop policies and standards for flexible work, make your employees an active part of the conversation. They know their roles best and can provide honest feedback about the decisions that will affect them most. If possible, invite your employees to provide feedback and scenarios for how their workflow might look if performed remotely full or part-time.
If you aim to set clear expectations and create a policy that is equitable to all employees and teams, you improve your chances for smooth interactions as you establish remote work policies in your organization.
Are you ready to start? Here’s how to make your remote workers feel like part of a team, no matter where they are.