Before March 2020, about 17 percent of Americans worked from home five days or more per week in the U.S. However, as pandemic lockdowns spread across the country, many businesses shifted – sometimes literally overnight – to a work-from-home model.
As employers scrambled to find new communication techniques and resources for their teams, the percentage of people working from home more than doubled to 44 percent of the workforce by mid-2020.
Today, as the vaccination rates increase and we look with hope to the end of the pandemic, it appears remote work is here to stay. A recent Pew Research study found that more than half of employees said they want to keep working from home. And some large companies, like Microsoft and Twitter, have announced that their employees can continue to work from home indefinitely.
This change represents a major cultural shift, and it drives home the need for companies to create a work-from-home policy for their employees. This article will explain the benefits of having a work from home policy and how to establish one for your organization.
Understanding a Work from Home Policy
A work from home policy is a legal document that defines the eligibility requirements, expectations, responsibilities, and other guidelines for employees who work from home. It also includes how the employer manages and evaluates the quality of work, such as through audits or peer review teams.
Benefits to Having a Work from Home Policy
Due to the pandemic, many employers had to scramble to help their workers set up their home workspaces and technologies. However, now that many of the kinks have been ironed out, the Pew Research survey found that about 75 percent of respondents said they have the equipment and adequate workspace to do their job at home.
Here are some of the benefits for companies that create a work from home policy.
Savings. Both employers and employees can gain financial benefits from remote work. According to Global Workplace Analytics, a typical organization can save about $11,000 per year for every employee who works from home at least part of the time. People who work from home also save money on transportation, parking, wardrobe, and meal expenses.
Flexibility. As long as they complete their assignments on time, remote workers often can set their own schedule. That means they can start early, take a break to take their kids to school, or keep working when a home repair person arrives. According to a survey published by Statista, one-fourth of respondents now expect remote work as an employee benefit.
Less wasted time. The average pre-pandemic American commuter spent a total of an hour each day getting to and from work. Some so-called extreme commuters averaged 90 minutes each way. Working from home eliminates this stressful time, allowing employees to start and end their workdays in a healthier manner, often leading to better mental health and higher productivity.
More diversity and inclusion. Work from home policies allow employers a wider range in whom they hire. They can seek applicants who live in a different location, opening up opportunities to people who may not be able to afford to live in a high-rent area near where an office is located, for example. Remote work also allows people with disabilities the opportunity to work without having to worry about commuting back and forth to an office location.
What to Include in a Work from Home Policy
Now that you know some of the benefits of establishing a work from home policy, you may be wondering what elements you should include in this legal contract. Here are five sections that should be part of the document.
- Eligibility. Not every employee can work from home. For example, some positions require in-person interaction with customers. This section explains what jobs are suitable for remote work.
- Expectations. This section explains that work from home employees must be organized, self-motivated, and disciplined. They also need to have a designated home workspace.
- Communication. Here is where you describe how employees will communicate with their managers and colleagues. Explain procedures for phone calls, texts, emails, and virtual meetings. Be sure to reference the training procedures you have on digital security.
- Scope. Be clear about how much of an employee's work can be completed at home and the hours they are expected to work each day. Also, are they able to work full-time from home? Part-time? As needed to fulfill personal obligations? Perhaps you want to set weekly in-person meetings for your staff. Here is where you state when remote work is not permissible.
- Expenses. Clearly define what your company provides for work from home expenses. These costs might include high-speed internet and other utility fees, office supplies, and software purchases.
How to Create a Work from Home Policy Statement
Although creating a work from home policy for your company may sound challenging, you don't have to start one from scratch.
Here are four key decisions you'll need to make to create your policy:
How employees will work from home. Your policy will outline the processes and strategies required for an employee to work productively outside of the office.
The tools needed for successful and secure work. Here you will explain what space, technology, and equipment a worker needs to be part of your remote team. Cyber-security is an essential part of this step.
Clear rules for communication. Discuss team meetings, performance reviews, employee education and development, and when workers are expected to be online and available.
- Legal rights. Your remote workers are entitled to the same legal protections as in-office workers. Be sure to set up clear guidelines for how many hours they should work and educate your employees on home health and safety procedures. Discuss benefits, training, and promotion opportunities with remote workers in the same way you would in-office employees.
Difference Between Work from Home and Remote Work
Over the past year, the terms "remote worker," "telecommuting," and "WFH," the abbreviation for work from home, have been part of our daily conversations.
Although the terms have been used interchangeably during the pandemic, there traditionally has been a distinction between them that is based on the work environment.
- Remote workers can work off-site from any location – their home, a café, or even a vacation spot. They may be full-time, part-time, or an independent contractor.
- Telecommuters can work off-site, but they are typically expected to occasionally come into the office for meetings or other forms of collaboration. For many years, this term has been used to describe salespeople and others who frequently travel as part of their job.
- A WFH employee is someone who is performing their normal office duties at home in a designated workspace. Before the pandemic, this arrangement was often seen as a temporary one – perhaps to stay home with a sick family member, for example.
The pandemic has blurred the distinctions between these terms for many companies. We no longer see WFH as temporary, for instance. It is crucial that you use consistent terminology within your work from home policy to avoid any confusion.
Tips to Motivate Work from Home Employees
One of the drawbacks to a WFH arrangement is the lack of in-person contact and social interactions. Zoom meetings help, but they are not the same as meeting without a screen. Some managers also worry about the many distractions of a home environment. Here are some tips to motivate your WFH team:
Encourage work hours. The boundaries between work at home can blur, leading to burnout. Ask your employees to follow a work schedule that allows them to have a healthy work-life balance.
Help them find a dedicated workspace. If you find that your employees are hunching over their screens at home, offer information and support in better lighting and economics. Give suggestions for carving out a small space in their home that is just for work.
Use surveys to understand morale. There are many online tools you can use to keep tabs on how your employees are handling a WFH environment and their productivity levels. Also, its’ a good idea to reach out for regular check-ins as part of your focus on employee health and well-being.
Encourage learning. There is no reason that WFH employees need to feel stuck in a rut. Offer your employees opportunities to learn new skills through webinars and online courses. Provide support and equipment as needed.
- Offer rewards and incentives. When someone goes above and beyond, let them know how much you appreciate it with a personal thank you and some form of bonus. Find ways to boost your company culture with group projects and online get-togethers (and in-person events when they are safely possible).
After the pandemic is finally in the rear-view mirror, we may be left with a work culture that looks much different than it did back in 2019. As companies adjust to their employees' WFH preferences or begin a hybrid concept of at-home and in-office work schedules, the need for a concrete policy is stronger than ever.