Implementing a Remote Work Policy? Avoid These Common Pitfalls

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While you’ve been building a business you can be proud of, or helping your boss do the same, you may have felt the distance grow between you and your colleagues.


Not because you’ve been too busy for after-work happy hours or quarterly retreats. No, because the distance between you has literally grown as your organization transitioned to a flexible or distributed workforce model in which office time is, for the most part, optional.


And that’s not even counting the ever-expanding cohort of independent contractors and temp workers upon which your organization relies to plug efficiency gaps, absorb demand, and outsource low-value tasks that nevertheless need to get done.


You’re not alone. According to a 2017 survey from FlexJobs, about 3.9 million employees worked remotely (mostly from home, wherever “home” happens to be) in 2017. That’s an increase of more than 2 million since 2005.


Meanwhile, a joint study from AND CO and Remote Year found that 55% of remote-working respondents were fully remote and the vast remainder were partially remote. About one in four worked for “fully distributed” organizations with entirely remote workforces. As long as they got their jobs done and phoned or Skyped in for standing meetings, these fully autonomous workers could live the work-from-anywhere dream.


Well, not quite. Neither study looked closely at respondents’ remote work policies — the legal backbones that make their enviable lifestyles possible.


Without a comprehensive, legally sound remote work policy, your organization could face a slew of unanticipated risks and unintended consequences. This is true even if you’ve been stringing along an ad hoc remote work scheme for years without serious adverse impacts (or, perhaps more accurately, adverse impacts that you’ve noticed and accounted for).


Even if you’ve rolled out your remote work policy already, it’s not too late to make things right. If you’re still considering allowing some or all of your team to work from home (or anywhere else), you have even less of an excuse to delay.


Just be sure to do it right. In particular, you’ll want to avoid these common remote work policy pratfalls and omissions.


  1. Skimping on Your Cloud File Sharing Solution (Or Forgetting About It Altogether)


What do you know about cloud file sharing providers?


You don’t have to know (or care) about the mechanics of cloud file storage. That’s your cloud file sharing provider’s burden.


What you do have to understand, if you’re serious about implementing an effective remote work policy, is what a scalable cloud file sharing arrangement allows you to do — and why your remote work policy simply isn’t complete without one.


Among other things, a scalable cloud file sharing solution allows your team to:


  • Create and share files to a shared, secure cloud-based repository
  • Edit and see edits to those files, with full permissions controls
  • Sync information and versions in real time, lowering barriers to communication and routinizing version control
  • Collaborate in real time on projects and deliverables
  • Add storage capacity and memory as needs allow
  • Respond rapidly to urgent issues and customer needs without waiting for files to transmit or couriers to arrive


For organizations that use comprehensive cloud file sharing solutions, the benefits are virtually endless. In addition to the team benefits described above, well-rounded solutions generally offer:


  • Industry-standard security (though clients are generally responsible for securing end-user devices in BYOD environments, which we’ll discuss in greater detail below)
  • Applicable regulatory compliance, e.g. GDPR and HIPAA
  • Flexible service level agreements (SLAs) that can be customized or fitted to client needs and adjusted as those needs change
  • Uniform, low-friction end user experience
  • Seamless or low-friction migration — a key consideration for clients with lots of data in multiple cloud locations


Convinced? All that’s left to do is implement your solution (and integrate it into your remote work policy, of course).


  1. Failing to Clearly Define Roles Eligible for Remote Work


Remote work isn’t all or nothing. For better or worse, some roles simply can’t be done well (or at all) when the roleplayer isn’t physically present.


Yes, no one’s about to let their building maintenance crew or cleaning team work from home, but more core roles than you realize fall into the gray area between “definitely remote-eligible” and “definitely not remote-eligible.”


It’s up to you to define your organization’s own roles as you see fit. This will turn on your managerial style and existing workplace culture as much as anything.


Once you’ve distinguished between remote-eligible, remote-ineligible, and partially remote-eligible roles, be sure to formalize the distinctions in your official remote work policy. An all-office email won’t do.


  1. Failing to Appreciate Nuance in Definitions of Remote Work


Relatedly, you’ll need to answer what at first blush seems like a fairly straightforward question: what does “remote work” actually mean in your organization’s context?


Like remote-eligible and -ineligible definitions, answering this question is a personal journey (one best done in concert with your human resources lead). But answer it you must.


This process involves lots of sub-questions, some specific to your organization and others fairly generic. For instance, you’ll probably need to determine whether to impose any geographical restrictions on remote work. Do your remote workers need to remain within commuting distance of your office, or within the same time zone? Can they work remotely while abroad?


  1. Failing to Stipulate Available Hours Requirements (If Any)


Worker availability is a huge issue for companies that allow remote work, one that can — if things break the wrong way — devastate productivity and threaten deliverables.


Most organizations with partially or fully distributed workforces address productivity by requiring remote team members to meet deadlines and complete deliverables for which they’re responsible. This isn’t revolutionary, and it doesn’t address the core issue around availability — whether someone who needs to pick up their phone on the first ring or answer an urgent Slack message within the minute is in a position to do so.


This is why it’s important to define “remote” on temporal or geographic bases. The best way to ensure that a remote worker is available on demand when you need them to be is require them to be “present” (remotely) during work hours in your home time zone.


  1. Omitting Explicit Software and Hardware Requirements


You need to know that your remote workforce can handle whatever demands you place on them. If you don’t explicitly outline minimum acceptable hardware and software requirements on a role-by-role basis, don’t blame that one ornery team member who insists on using a 20-year-old ThinkPad for what you know in your heart is a failure of management.


  1. Failing to Outline a Reasonable On-Call Policy (If Necessary)


Beyond a role-based availability policy, don’t neglect call time either. Your on-call requirements are likely to vary by role and seniority level; your service leads and pretty much all employees at the director level and above need to expect round-the-clock call time when they’re not officially on vacation, for instance, while your line developers can probably punch out at 5 or 6 or whenever you say it’s okay.


It’s really important that you write this into your remote work policy, though. The last thing you want is for three backstops in a row to fall because no one knew they were supposed to be on call after hours (and no one was at the office, where a chance encounter might have resolved the problem).


  1. Omitting Standing Calls and Teleconferences


Standing calls and mandatory teleconferences should happen during or near regular work hours, unless you’re in the habit of accommodating overseas clients or vendors.


As long as you have a blanket work-hours availability policy, meetings that take place in one or two time zones shouldn’t be too tough to manage. It’s the early-morning or late-afternoon opposite-coast meetings, and the aforementioned overseas tete-a-tetes, that could pose problems.


You have a handle on your standing meeting schedule (hopefully). Be sure to write an expansive attendance mandate into your remote work policy — one customized for each remote worker and inclusive of all the meetings that he or she is expected to attend.


  1. Failing to Stipulate Required On-Site Days


Some days, calling in isn’t enough. Circumstances under which you might reasonably need team members to come into the office include (but aren’t limited to):


  • Workplace trainings, e.g. sensitivity or new process reviews
  • Examinations or certifications that can’t be completed remotely
  • Annual meetings and retreats
  • Personnel moves (promotions, termination, reassignment, performance reviews)


You can probably think of some others.


To be clear, nowhere is it written that your organization must have an annual meeting or that you must promote employees in person. But it’s never a bad idea to write some wiggle room into your remote work policy to accommodate situations that you’d prefer to handle face-to-face.


  1. Sticking With a Lax or Nonexistent Personal Browsing Policy


Remote work doesn’t absolve team members of their obligation to respect your time. You almost certainly bar your on-site workers from personal Internet use on company time, and probably use browsing controls to enforce this rule.


What’s stopping you from doing the same for your remote workforce?


The legal diciness of actively restricting browsing activity on your employees’ personal laptops and desktop devices, for one, not to mention the practical problems presented by unauthorized “bogey” devices.


But that doesn’t mean you can’t institute an honors-system policy that uses performance and productivity metrics as proxies for staying on task. Whatever you decide, write it into your remote work policy and be prepared to enforce it.


  1. Neglecting to Lay Out a Formal BYOD Policy


The BYOD train has left the station, and it’s long past time to catch up.


If you’re not already familiar with the keys to establishing an effective BYOD policy, drop what you’re doing and get up to speed. Then, huddle with your CIO, CTO, and HR lead to put together a workable set of BYOD protocols. Write them into your remote work policy, paying special attention to security and compatibility issues.


  1. Failing to Properly Track and Manage Employee Time


There’s a fine line between thoroughness and invasiveness. While staying on the right side of said line — or, in this case, the left side — you’ll want to implement a scalable solution to track and manage remote worker time.


Your remote work policy should then clearly stipulate how you’ll be tracking employee time and what obligations, if any, your employees will need to meet to demonstrate that they’re holding up their end of the bargain. The mantra here: no surprises.


  1. Failing to Affirmatively Approve Remote Workspaces


Last, but not least: any comprehensive remote work policy must have a framework for the affirmative approval of dedicated remote workspaces. These are your remote workers’ primary workspaces — where they do the bulk of their work when not at your office. For the most part, we’re talking about home offices and coworking spaces (subscriptions for which you should subsidize or reimburse for all key remote employees).


Prior to approving, you’ll need to consider things like:


  • Network security (virtual private networks and firewalls are key)
  • Proper equipment and wiring (for virtual meetings and the like)
  • Adequate privacy, particularly in heavily regulated industries (this is why it’s not ideal for your remote team to work out of coffee shops, and why you may want to spring for a coworking suite with locking doors)
  • Any other capabilities that the worker needs to do their job


Slow and Steady Wins the Race


In a tight labor market, does any competitive edge qualify as a worthy pursuit? At some point, you’ve got to pull back the reins and say, “Hold on — let’s think about what we’re doing here.”


If you find yourself rushing to implement a generous remote work policy without fully considering likely eventualities or anticipating the potential pitfalls of a fully or partially distributed workforce, you’re at that point. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue a remote work policy, or work with all deliberate speed to formalize an existing ad hoc policy — merely that it’s better to move slowly and steadily than to, as the saying goes, move fast and break things.


It’s not as if your entire recruiting strategy hangs on a generous remote work policy. Far from it. You’re free to implement a slew of employee-friendly policies, from unlimited time off to fully paid maternity leave to free catered lunches to above-market employer matches for your qualified plans to — well, you get the idea. These initiatives, and other evidence-based options you may be considering, will probably shore up your recruiting pipeline and encourage talented team members to stick around longer.


At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. Whether your sales lead happens to be Skyping into your weekly standing meeting from Costa Rica, not so much.


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