Despite the best efforts by big corporations and office-space real estate owners and investors, remote working is likely to remain at least a significant part of the economy for the foreseeable future. Not only do employees get to avoid things like commute times, increased wear and tear on personal vehicles, and the hassles of keeping and maintaining business/professional attire at all times, but businesses have regularly reportedsignificant improvement in efficiency and output as a result.

As an aside, I would also like to personally call out any executive who cries that showing up to an office is critical for morale and team building. These are the same people who, for the past 10 years, have ignored every single impact and efficiency study in existence when making their decisions to move to an “open office” environment, which was solely about reducing business expenses. Any executive willing to endure the precipitous loss in productivity and dramatic increase in sexual harassment that came along with the “open office” setup should be prohibited from actually requiring anyone to show up to work in those cavernous nightmare spaces.

Even before the pandemic, remote work had become increasingly popular. Given that it’s not going anywhere – even if you require your employees to show up in person, flexibility should always be the name of the game – it’s important to have a remote working policy in place to ensure that your employees are productive, safe, and secure while working from home.

Your Remote Work Policy will be highly variable depending on the nature of your business, your IT resources, and whether your employees are using their personal devices or the equipment you provide.

Here are 9 Essential Elements of a Successful Remote Work Policy:

  1. Remote Work Eligibility

The first step in developing a remote working policy is to define who is eligible for remote work. This could be based on job duties, performance, or other factors. Make sure that you leave yourself adequate wiggle room for exceptions that do not create a precedent for future situations and clear, logical bases for who is or is not eligible. It is also worth mentioning that your policies should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they meet your existing needs.

  1. Remote Work Hours

Your remote working policy should outline the expected work hours for remote workers. This should include specific start and end times, as well as any breaks or meal periods. If nothing else, establishing work hours should be discussed in terms of cybersecurity – accessing information during “off-work” hours is typically an indicator of a cyber incident.

If your remote work policy strictly enforces work hours, for whatever reason, you need to have a written policy for workers to provide notification of and to receive permission for working outside the pre-defined hours.

  1. Communication

Your remote working policy should specify how employees are expected to communicate with their managers and colleagues and any tools or software that they should use. It is highly recommended that you adopt specific platforms for email, chat, and video conferencing. For security purposes, it’s probably also a good idea that not all of those platforms be run/operated by the same company.

  1. Equipment and Technology

Your remote working policy should specify what devices, tools, software, and other technology your employees will need to perform their jobs effectively from home. This could include a computer, high-speed internet, and access to company software. Make sure that if any element of your employees’ connection to your network occurs via personal or third-party equipment, your policy sets out strict requirements for identifying approved devices and for providing complete information about those devices to your IT department.

  1. Security

Your remote work policy is a ticking time bomb of failure (and cyber risk) if it does not directly address security. Your remote working policy should specify how employees should access company systems and data securely, and what steps they should take to protect company information.

Make sure to clearly state that workarounds and other “shadow IT” methods of gaining access to company data are not permitted, and you must tell everyone why. The process for granting exceptions to any security requirements must be spelled out, and exceptions should only be granted in very rare circumstances where the need is documented and where other security measures can be implemented as a replacement.

  1. Performance and Expectations

Your remote working policy should specify how employee performance will be measured and evaluated, and what expectations you have for employee productivity and output. Remember, however, that your expectations for remote work should not be used as a tool to incentivize returning to the office, and that any expectations still must meet with applicable wage and hour laws.

  1. Health and Safety

Identify and describe any health and safety guidelines that employees should follow while working from home. This could include ergonomic considerations, eye strain, and taking breaks to prevent burnout. Keeping your employees healthy is imperative, and different considerations must be taken into account when working from home. Take this seriously – your employees will notice and appreciate it.

  1. Expenses and Reimbursements

Your remote working policy should specify any expenses that employees will be responsible for, as well as any expenses that the company will cover. This could include expenses related to equipment, software, and internet access. As with the previous sections, make sure that you have a specific procedure for exemptions and exceptions to this policy.

The more details each exception records, the less likely that an exception will set a precedent going forward. This section also is likely to benefit from regular review and updating, as the changing costs of equipment and the frequent turnover of individual devices can quickly lead to the policy becoming outdated, expensive, or both.

  1. Termination

Your remote working policy must outline the conditions under which remote work may be terminated. This could include situations where the employee is no longer eligible for remote work, or where the company decides to terminate remote work arrangements. The terms must be clear, must include a procedure and guidelines for seeking exceptions, and must be followed closely. Failure to do any of these things could result in litigation and allegations of discrimination or favoritism. Detailed policies and fact-intensive reviews, all thoroughly documented, should limit your risks in these areas.

In conclusion, a remote working policy is critical for small businesses that have remote workers. By outlining eligibility, work hours, communication, equipment and technology, security, performance and expectations, health and safety, expenses and reimbursements, and termination, you can ensure that your employees are productive, safe, and secure while working from home.

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