Remote Work in Times of Crisis- What Does Your Policy Include?

By Regina Stevenson March 21, 2020

A Telecommuting Policy is an agreement between the employer and employee to work from home or another remote location to perform job responsibilities during normal business hours. 

The COVID-19 crisis has served as a catalyst for businesses to change how they do business.  Employers who may have once said that employees could not work from home are now mandating those same employees to do just that – work remotely to maintain business continuity.

The question is not whether companies could have always provided this option for those who are disabled, pregnant, or caring for a sick relative, but what barriers existed to keep them from making it available.

  • Are companies prepared to handle the responsibility?
  • Are managers trained to supervise their teams remotely?
  • Do employees have the space and equipment requisites in their home to perform their jobs and be productive?
  • Who maintains the risk and liability in such an arrangement especially in homes with two persons working remotely while shuffling childcare and/or educator roles?
  • Is the leadership in organizations asking themselves those questions now or reacting to government recommendations that Americans self-quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

In my experience as an HR Leader who has supported IT professionals that often worked on a 24/7 basis to ensure services are maintained and running smoothly, we would often find ourselves answering an array of questions from candidates in the talent acquisition process.

Do you offer work flexibility?

Do I have to be on call and how often?

Do you offer flexible scheduling?

Are breaks allowed when working from home?

Do I have to come into the office if there is an outage?

Do you offer a stipend for cell phone or internet use at home?

Can I buy my own equipment or do I have to use company purchased equipment?

Do you offer comp time or overtime pay for hours worked greater than 40 per week?

The answers to these questions could make or break the ability to hire the best talent. As a result, we formalized a Remote Work/Telecommuting Policy so we could effectively compete for and retain talent.  Over several years, we would evaluate and update the policy to reflect new challenges that surfaced.

So, how do you make this happen?  How do you avoid risks? How do you build flexibility into your policy?   What do you need to consider?

  1. Assemble a cross-functional team to research, gain buy-in, and write the policy. – Include HR, IT, and Finance key persons.  Benchmark what other companies have already implemented. Understand HR, financial and legal limitations. Determine critical functions that must be executed and who can perform them remotely.  Know how productivity will be impacted.  Be prepared to document expectations of both manager and employee.
  2. Work with your IT managers on how to technically support a remote workforce.  Review current and any additional resources required.  Catalog existing software and review new applications necessary to communicate with employees online.  Know if current business systems allow for remote login.  Ensure data security and privacy measures will be implemented.
  3. Understand the financial impact to employers and employees.  – Calculate the Return on Investment (ROI).  Determine tax implications – for example can employees write-off utilities in their homes due to an increase in usage. Know employee travel, cell phone, and internet reimbursement laws, guidelines and rules and whether or not the amount reimbursed would increase the total compensation paid to employees. Rework and revise operational budgets specifically equipment and software resources for employees working from home.
  4. Develop a HR strategy and implications. – Eligibility of Exempt vs Non-Exempt workers. Work hours, work schedules, vacation planning, compensatory time, and overtime pay.  Allocation of work space in homes.  Workers Compensation.  Disability accommodations. Equal opportunity. Safety. Adherence to the organization’s policy and procedures.  Use information to guide perquisites, programs, and decisions that boost employee engagement and attract and retain talent. Conduct workforce planning processes to fill strategic, core, and functional roles. Potential to enrich company culture and demonstrate interest in employee well-being.
  5. Be ready to create training resources to ensure alignment at all levels.  – This includes communicating policy and procedures, completing documents, using software and communication tools, and reporting issues.
  6. Get your C-Suite, Leadership, Business Owners, Management Teams, and Entrepreneurs on board.  Communicate with them about the value of implementing the policy, the effect on hiring and retention of employees, any reduction to operational costs, how it will enhance work-life boundaries, and an opportunity to improve productivity.

Let’s not wait to react should another crisis occur.  It will.  As you are dealing with the current challenges, also focus on strengthening your current policies and creating a robust telecommuting policy that I am sure your employees will be asking about in the future. 

The time is now.  Get ready!

Regina Stevenson is the owner of Allaso Performance Solutions, Inc . She consults with organizations to solve challenges related to Business Management, HR, and Organizational Development.

The ideas and opinions in this article represent the experience of Mrs. Stevenson working in other organizations and does not constitute an exhaustive list of what should be included in a Telecommuting Policy. Each policy must consider the culture of an organization and how well a company handles risk management.

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