Whether your team has met in person every day or you have always had a virtual office, one thing remains the same: employees now expect the ability to work from home.
The workforce has shifted to teleworking for a variety of reasons. More teams are comprised of part-time or freelance workers, companies are focused on providing better work-life balance, and both employees and employers have become dedicated to staying healthy in the wake of COVID-19.
Unsurprisingly, it is estimated that 25 to 30% of the global workforce will work from home multiple days a week by 2021. This rise creates a need for guidelines in the form of a telework policy, whether they’d be implemented in the next few days or year.
As mentioned before, the boom in telework creates an additional demand for a formal set of rules and guidelines for remote employees. Although your employee handbook may cover general expectations, it is important to establish telework-specific policies and understand how and why to support them.
An effective telework policy will:
Even if your team has already begun working remotely, you can still create and implement telework policies for a variety of topics and departments, including: Human Resources (HR) or personnel needs, IT support including hardware/software use, and expectations regarding company property, time, and project management.
A telework policy should be created and developed by the entire team, and managers and employees should engage in an open dialogue about what remote work entails for their specific dynamic and projects.
There are several templates available online for telework policies that you could use as a guide, like this policy developed by Global Workplace Analytics. However, you should take care to tailor any template to your company’s specific needs.
These policies should be distributed widely and discussed with each department before requesting any signatures of understanding. And because this is a significant change for so many organizations, it’s important to revisit the newly established telework policies three months after implementing them to adjust as necessary.
In most cases, a corporate employee handbook covers personnel issues including government protections, sick leave or other time off, and dress code. While this is all still important to address (especially if your company imposes a dress code for video conferencing), a telework policy will address things specific to personnel who work remotely, as well as eligibility to continue working remotely.
An example of this is a policy discussing dependent care. In a traditional work environment, you might not need to include in an employee handbook that workers should not bring their children to the office to work every day. But, in a virtual environment, this may need to be stated. An effective telework policy may include a section stating whether or not it is allowed to divide your attentions while on the clock by caring for a child or loved one. Although this policy may need to be relaxed in times of emergency, it is still important to address during normal operating circumstances.
The policy may also need to establish requirements for employees’ work environments. For example, if your business is a call center, it should be specified that each team member is expected to work in a quiet room, with access to internet and telephone rather than at a kitchen table (or busy coffee shop) where other people or pets may create distracting or disruptive background noise.
The HR telework policy could also include methods to reach HR and digitally file complaints, if necessary. Additionally, the policy should establish working hours that the employee is expected to be available to their teammates through chat or telephone.
If a company does not have a “Bring Your Own Device” (also called BYOD) policy, employees who telework will need to be provided devices to use at home -- which means a policy should be in place to protect them.
These devices may include:
Expectations of company-owned hardware and software use should be clear. The telework policy should also make clear that security is still a priority, and the team is expected to be thoughtful when opening attachments and web pages to avoid malware and virus attacks.
Of note: be sure to include the best way to contact the IT service desk or direct employees to the right channels where they can access information and look for answers quickly. For example, this could be done through a self-service portal, chatbot, or web application. Omnichannel support is one of the most comprehensive ways for employees to get answers for common issues on their own, from any location.
Managing a remote team has different challenges from managing on-site staff. For example, managers of remote employees may need to be more trusting of their team’s time management skills, as they will be unable to simply patrol the office to assess who may need additional guidance. Just as employees need a clear telework policy to define how they will be managed, managers need the same clarity to address the common pitfalls in the supervision of a remote workforce.
The telework policy should clearly define the ways that managers will monitor progress. This may mean implementing project management software, like Asana, and training remote workers on how to track and share their progress.
The policy should also include the ways in which managers can be reached and how to access shared knowledge, should a manager be unavailable. This can often be accomplished with self-service software or a knowledge management solution.
As previously mentioned, creating your telework policy may be as simple as tailoring a template. However, it is important that once you have created the policies, they are stored in an easily accessible location.
A paper copy, for example, will not be practical for a remote environment in the same way that a paper employee handbook can be useful. Similarly, sending an email which may be lost in the shuffle can also be ineffective. Instead, a shared drive, web access, or self-service portal can create ease of access for all remote employees who are looking to review the policies and necessary resources.
It is also important to create a knowledge database with other useful information for remote workers. This can house all policies and procedures relating to each position and is not limited to only housing a telework policy. A chatbot can also help answer employee questions when transitioning to a remote work environment.
Management and those manning the IT service desk may become inundated with repetitive questions, especially when it comes to setting up hardware or software from home. Tools like chatbots and knowledge management database solutions will result in a deflection of service desk calls and questions to managers, which can ultimately reduce service desk call handling time.
A recent CFO survey by Gartner revealed that 74% of organizations will shift some employees to remote work permanently post COVID-19 -- so the telework policy effort put forth now will have a long-term impact.
Once the telework policy has been fully formed, understood, and signed by all parties, it is vital that management and other teams provide support to make it easy for everyone to adhere to the policies. As with all other aspects of remote work, it simply takes great communication and knowledge sharing to go forward with ease.
Learn more about real intelligent knowledge management and how to transform the employee experience in our latest webinar replay!
Evan Carlson joined EasyVista in 2010 as the first employee in North America. He is currently the Chief Revenue Officer responsible for revenue growth and profitability across marketing, sales, services, support and customer success. Evan previously served as VP of Sales at EasyVista to establish and grow the business with empowered teams, innovative sales strategies, and long-term customer relationships. Before EasyVista, Evan held leadership roles for technology vendors including OPNET, Optinuity (acquired by CA Technologies), and Visual Networks (acquired by Danaher Corporation).