What was initially seen as a temporary setup, working from anywhere is now part of the status quo. More many companies, this new process created a need to formalize remote work policies that were previously makeshift. Leaders and managers are being asked to refine their initial policies to make them work for both employees and employers.

In our State of Remote Work 2020 Survey we found that many employees actually prefer flexible arrangements. In fact, 80% of people expect to work from home at least 3x per week. Employees also said they were willing to take a pay cut ranging from 5% to over 10% to work from home at least some of the time.

This news can seem welcome as companies in the U.S. struggle with knowing when offices can reopen for sure. Return to office dates have been constantly postponed even as vaccination rollouts take place. Businesses across states and industries like retail, technology and shipping, initially estimated March 2021 as a return to office date but are pushing back yet again to September this year--and that may not stick.

According to a TechRepublic interview with a senior analyst at Forrester, employers need to see a more accelerated vaccine roll out--as well as a downward trend for hospitalization and infection rates--before being able to determine if and when they can return to the office.

In 2020, working from home proved to offer its own set of benefits: 

  • For employees, there’s the obvious perk of being able to work comfortably in their pajamas, eliminating commuting times and being able to spend time with pets and family. 
  • For employees, it has also offered an increase in productivity.
  • For employers, the talent pool has widened and provided new opportunities for candidates who previously wouldn’t have been able to apply.

Leaders have, however, expressed concern over stifled creativity and increasing cases of burnout within their teams. For team members, the lack of structure can cause them to work too much and even the lack of a proper workspace at home can cause anxiety.

To maximize its benefits and to mitigate its downsides related to stress and creativity, a carefully crafted remote work policy is key.

Incorporating Employee Feedback + Opinions

One way to make sure remote work policies will work for everyone is to make sure it is informed by feedback from employees and leaders. 

HR teams and company policymakers can collect team input using tools like SurveyMonkey, Typeform, or GoogleForms

They can also hold virtual meetings to ask employees to share their preferences and their challenges with a work from anywhere setup--in addition to scheduling employee focus groups or strengthening employee representation during leadership meetings.

These surveys and discussions can provide data on: 

  • How many employees prefer a fully remote work setup to a hybrid setup where team members can choose from both remote or in-office options. 
  • What hardware or software do team members need to fulfill their tasks at home?
  • Employees’ needs in terms of schedules and workspaces as many are also sharing their homes with spouses, children and other members of the family.

These data-gathering efforts can then inform changes in your company’s IT requirements and improvements to your company’s perks and benefits programs.

Creating Remote Work Policies

A good remote work policy should be able to communicate expectations about working remotely. These should include items on working hours, communication, legal rights and cybersecurity. 

With many different aspects to cover, creating a comprehensive but easy-to-understand remote work policy can seem difficult. To help, we put together a remote work policy template to help you. You won't need to start from scratch and you'll get a checklist of the basic items you need to cover.

Remote work policy basics include:

  • The nature of different roles in your team and how working from home can impact their success (e.g. product assembly vs. data entry vs. accounting).
  • The tools, resources and strategies team members need to work with. In this list of tools are the hardware, software and processes as applied to working from home.
  • Any considerations for managing a remote employee like having fixed schedules for 1:1s and team meetings, avoiding unscheduled meetings and requesting for end of day reports
  • The impact of remote work on both your company's tax reporting and finances and the employees' compensation and benefits

Apart from the basics, you can get the following from our remote work policy templates:

  1. Definitions on remote working and flexible schedules
  2. A guide on how to survey internal stakeholders
  3. Best practices when working with different teams from HR, legal, IT, finance and operations
  4. How to choose policy options that work for your company
  5. How to document and update your policies

Approaching the Return to Office

When conditions do improve and the probability that offices can reopen is higher, companies need to create a plan for returning to the office and contingency plans for a re-exit, should cases increase again. 

Another consideration would be providing hybrid options to accommodate employees with new schedules or caregiving needs for children learning at home or for other members of the family. Offering hybrid options is also another way to accommodate team members who have found success in the work-from-anywhere set up. 

We also recommend rolling out in phases. This allows teams to slowly adjust to working in the office and provides IT departments with enough time to prepare cybersecurity requirements. 

Additionally, reopening in phases and only allowing some volunteers to move back to the office lets you mitigate any new changes that come up. It also enables you to get real-time feedback from the onsite team. Finance company FIS shared their experiences of reopening and later shutting down their Brazil offices. With about 5,000 employees, they had been working to bring teams back in early 2021 when cases spiked again.

And while some companies require that employees get vaccinated as a return to office policy, others are implementing training in health and safety protocols like health declarations, understanding community infection rates and mandatory mask-wearing. 

Whether offices can reopen sooner or later, businesses and teams need to stay flexible. Preferences and requirements may vary from person to person and from role to role--and situations in your local communities may change. Inclusive planning and clear and consistent communications, along with a clear remote work policy will help best support all members of the workplace.