For the past few months, I was flooded with requests to design a Work From Home (WFH) Policy. The pandemic forced businesses and employees to transition to remote work overnight. My past employers such as ABG Group and RIL employ over 100,000 employees. Even for them this was new territory. Moreover, even large employers lacked effective systems and policies. Thus of course startups and small businesses are struggling. I have now worked with companies large and small to enable this transition. To make this transition successful, I had to identify the most critical factors. So today, I talk about the best practices on how to design and implement a good Work From Home Policy. In this blog:
What is the purpose of your WFH policy?
Like any workplace policy, start with the end goal. So, is your work from home policy only for a pandemic like crisis situations? Or do you want to embrace it as part of the workplace? Do you want it to be available for certain special situations? For instance, lack of childcare, commute challenges posed by rains, etc? Is it unlimited or limited? Define these boundary conditions as it will help you choose the right design. Fundamentally, your policy will fall into one of the following two buckets:
1. Work from Home or Telecommuting
This is an arrangement where employees do not need to be present in the office. Instead, they can work from a different location, usually residence. However, they have to travel to the office at regular intervals. Further, it may be similar for team gatherings, client meetings, market visits, etc. Hence, usually, the employee is based out of the same city, region, or country, depending on the role. This is the most common approach adopted by organizations that embrace work from home culture to provide flexibility to employees. In contrast, others prefer regular face to face interactions to maintain collaboration and productivity.
2. Remote Working
This is a work arrangement where employees work fully remotely. Hence, they can work from any location within the country or region and in certain cases, globally. So this approach usually works well for distributed teams working across time zones. Additionally, this approach is adopted by organizations with one or more of the following goals:
- Access global talent
- Reduce carbon footprint
- Workaround employees’ need for flexibility
- Save costs on physical infrastructure
What is the scope and eligibility for Work From Home Policy
Each workplace is different. One size certainly doesn’t fit all. Hence, start by answering the following:
1. Which roles do we cover?
For example, you could think manufacturing roles are not suited. On the contrary, support functions probably can work from home fully. Besides, sales teams should do market visits but could otherwise be fully remote.
2. Which employees do we cover in the work from home policy?
This would be dictated by demographics and culture. Try to answer the following questions:
- Would our leaders work fully from home?
- Should the employees meet physically every 15 days?
- Do I cover new employees from day 1 of joining?
- Should there be a minimum tenure before WFH policy applies?
3. Which circumstances warrant work from home?
Under special circumstances, try to evaluate the following questions:
- Is the WFH policy be applicable for special situations only?
- Should the remote working policy be limited to a specific number of days in a week or a month?
- Will there be defined peak periods where working from an office is mandatory? For instance, month-end for the accounts team or annual compensation review for the HR team.
How to maintain culture and values in a remote working environment?
The biggest challenge we usually face is reinforcing organizational culture and values remotely. Additionally motivating remote employees also becomes important. Since a physical workplace is often full of subtle cues about this ethos, it comes naturally. For example, employees bond through informal water cooler talks and formal team events. However, this needs to be a bit more deliberate in a remote work environment. Hence, provided below are some ideas to get you rolling:
1. Replicate culture
Continue All- hands meetings, team celebrations, learning opportunities, etc. that make your office culture unique. They can be either a virtual or hybrid manner to include remote employees. Ask yourself what aspect of culture do employees love most about the office. It could be water-cooler moments, brainstorming sessions, or festival celebrations. Usually, figuring out how to transition it online turns gets simpler once you break it down. So get specific.
2. State Standards of availability and conduct
Would you have regular working hours, different shifts, or flexible hours? What are the minimum hours that an employee has to be available? Moreover, can an employee change working hours and whether s/he needs to inform in advance? Should there be a dress code? Design simple dos, and don’ts like muting the line, minimum notice for meetings, Video on or off, etc?
3. Set standards of performance
The organizations that work in close proximity, usually feel unsure about the impact on performance. Managers want to be sure things are getting done. Similarly, employees want to ensure that their work is visible. So, one of the best practices to avoid micromanaging is daily check-ins to clarify priorities. Moreover, it is important to redesign performance management workshops to support managers and employees. This helps to reimagine performance and coaching conversations. For example, switch from usual role plays to virtual role plays, build multiple use cases, etc.
4. Ensure Collaboration
Define communication protocol well and in advance. Some of my favorites are:
a. Slack for both formal and informal communication
b. Email for formal communication
c. Asanify’s HR Chatbot for onboarding, workplace analysis, attendance, leave, etc.
d. Zoom for team meetings
e. Owl Labs for conferencing and townhalls
How to provide suitable remote working infrastructure support
A minimum viable infrastructure is critical for employees to ensure productivity and performance. Usually, we operate in a multi-generational workforce. Hence, some employees may naturally adapt to technology whereas others may require support to figure it out. Thus, when designing and implementing a remote working plan, ask yourself:
1. Remote Office equipment
Is the equipment provided to employees enough to transition to work from home? Do employees need allowance or additional equipment to set up a home office? Will certain employees need to spend on internet connection? Will some of them require a headset or a laptop? Are employees well acquainted with cloud software?
Do we have a strong IT helpdesk readily available and accessible? Is it able to cater to multiple shifts and flexible hours?
3. Other Policies and Processes along with WFH Policy
Are complementary policies like data security, performance management, attendance, etc. in place? Are guides and FAQs available for day to day troubleshooting? Do you need periodic workshops or self-paced learning modules? Additionally, many AI-enabled, intuitive, and easy to implement solutions such as Asanify are available that address employee concerns in real-time.
Like it or not, the pandemic has forced us into an unprecedented situation. Therefore, we need to fully or partially reimagine our workplace to ensure business continuity and sustainability. Technology adoption, though critical, is just one of the challenges of remote working. The good news is that remote working too involves a learning curve. With flexibility, compassion, and patience, it does get familiar and easier. Hence, Managers should expect high functioning employees to take some time to adjust. Similarly, employees should recognize they may need a little more direction. Of course, the organizations should realize that everyone is relatively new to this and little handholding and workplace fun will go a long way. Let us be open to feedback. Only then we can continue to refine our approach to infrastructure, socialization, and performance.
With daycares and schools closed, hired help or family support off limits and uncertainty fuelled anxiety, everyone is stretched thin. However, we are resilient and resourceful. In tough times, it is critical to remember what really matters. That is, the ability to deliver on the promise made as a professional. Hence, where it gets done doesn’t really matter.
Not to be considered as tax, legal, financial or HR advice. Regulations change over time so please consult a lawyer, accountant or Labour Law expert for specific guidance.