What to Include in Your 2021 Work-from-Home Policy
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a move across knowledge-work organizations towards hybrid workforce models. There obviously remained a number of holdouts—and even examples of regression. But COVID-19 completely changed this paradigm. Changes that would have taken years to institute were implemented in a manner of days or weeks. Business leaders and managers who believed workers would shirk their duties, work fewer hours, and become unproductive were mistaken.
Resilient, Productive Workforce
Throughout the pandemic, even when working from dining rooms, closets, bedrooms, balconies, and storage sheds, the workforce has proven to be resilient in the face of adversity and committed to the success of their organizations and teams. A study conducted by the Small Business Association of Michigan in September discovered that 51% of workers have been more productive when working from home, while 44% say their productivity is about the same. Only 5% indicated their productivity diminished.
Eliminating daily commutes that can tally into several hours in certain metropolitan areas certainly translates into huge savings for workers. A study conducted by Stanford found that Americans save 60 million hours per day by working from home. About 35% of the time saved commuting to-and-from work is actually spent working; around 60% of the time savings is spent on various activities—from household chores to childcare. Not only does this translate into higher productivity, but it also creates a more engaged and happier workforce.
Work from Home Is Here to Stay
Workers resoundingly like working from home. The same study by the Small Business Administration of Michigan uncovered that 65% of workers prefer to continue working remotely post-pandemic. 31% prefer a hybrid work model—work from home and from the office. Surprisingly, only 4% said they want to return permanently to the office. Comparable findings were recently published by PwC. Adoption of remote work or hybrid work arrangements is viewed by many executives as a new normal according to the PwC report, and the majority plan to institute remote and/or hybrid work models.
As the virus mutates and spikes during the winter months and everyone waits for the vaccines to become available, lockdowns are being reinstituted and decisions to reopen office workspace pushed further into 2021. Most companies are now telling their employees that it will be July or later before they can entertain reopening their offices.
Developing and Codifying Remote Work-from-Home Policies
What was only a temporary move to accommodate government mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has become a long-term and permanent fixture for many businesses. In order for businesses to sustain the momentum around workforce productivity and engagement when the pandemic first hit, it is critical that they develop and codify remote work-from-home policies. Following are recommendations that managers and HR specialists can quickly and easily implement:
Specifying Which Workers Are Eligibility
The first step in writing a work-from-home policy is define who is eligible. It may not make sense for every employee or contractor to work from home. To begin, there are full-time equivalent (FTE) workers and contractors. For example, for supervisory purposes, businesses may decide that only FTE workers are eligible to work from home.
The nature of a job is also a determining factor (e.g., does the person need to interact with specific individuals or teams in the office, do they require access to certain systems in the office to perform their job). Other factors involving the worker’s home environment such as background noise, internet connectivity, and a space to work can also dictate remote work-at-home eligibility.
Defining Work Schedules
When workers are working from an assigned workplace, then most workers abide by a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule. However, with remote work from home, that is no longer necessarily the case—particularly when children, spouses, and other household members are factored into the equation. Allowing on group of employees to set their own schedules and preventing others from doing so can quickly lead to problems. Here, businesses need to ensure they have documented schedule policies in place for employees who work from home. For certain types of workers, this may include rest breaks and lunch breaks.
Spelling Out Responsiveness
With workers unable to walk down the hallway to engage with a coworker or groups of coworkers, businesses require policies around responsiveness to elicit timely responses to questions and requests to those working from home. Digital technologies such as Microsoft Teams and Slack for messaging and Monday, Basecamp, and Trello, among others for project management play an important role in facilitating rapid responses.
Evolving Technology Support
Remote workers require different levels of technical support than those who work on site. Many companies before the pandemic did not have technical support policies in place for remote workers. The equipment they require, how they should engage technical support, and how they can receive and send equipment all need to be included in work-from-home policies.
Leveraging Virtual Office Space
Once the pandemic begins to subside, some businesses and workers will want to return to hybrid workplace arrangements. For some businesses, they may opt to either reduce the amount of permanent workspace they maintain or even eliminate it. Virtual office space such as coworking space, day offices, and rented conference rooms such as Davinci Meeting Rooms are a cost-effective, flexible solution. Work-from-home policies must address issues such as when to use virtual office space, how to reserve it, how to submit reimbursement requests, and others. For businesses that give up their physical office space or elect to expand into new areas, virtual office addresses like Davinci Virtual Offices enable them to do so quickly and easily.
Securing Remote Systems and Workers
Additional cybersecurity challenges arise when worker are remote and working from homes. Physical offices leverage various network security systems that protect workers and devices from malicious attacks. But for remote work-from-home workers, those cyber protections no longer exist. Home access points often lack appropriate cybersecurity controls and the use of cloud services has exploded during the pandemic. This did not go unnoticed, and cybercriminals ramped up their attacks, with over 6 in 10 organizations reporting a 25% or more increase. In response, businesses need to institute cybersecurity policies for remote workers that encompass everything from endpoint security updates, use of cloud services, and use of virtual private networks versus public Wi-Fi networks.
Extending Security and Safety to Physical Environments
Many workers find themselves in makeshift workspace scenarios in their homes. Handling confidential company information and personally identifiable information (PII) digitally and in hard copy, workers can put it at risk by failing to follow policies that help prevent accidental disclosure. At the same time, businesses must ensure that the workspaces in remote work-from-home scenarios are configured to promote worker safety and health such as securing ergonomic chairs and desks, using appropriate lighting, among others.
Propelling Businesses Through and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Organizations and individual workers have demonstrated unrelenting resiliency and persistence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless businesses transitioned from permanent workplaces to 100% remote work-from-home arrangements in a matter of days with little or no interruption to operations and services. More than nine months into the pandemic, both businesses and workers concur that remote work has numerous benefits and few want to return to permanent workspaces.
Some workers will continue to work from home after the pandemic ends. Others will return to hybrid workplace arrangements where workers may work several days from home and a couple days from a permanent company office or virtual office. In order for workers to remain productive, it is critical for businesses to implement work-from-home policies that establish guidelines on a variety of issues.