Your remote employees will have questions that not everyone in the team immediately knows the answers to. When am I expected to be online? Can I use my own device? Do I get paid for overtime?
A comprehensive remote work policy answers these questions for new employees and acts as a ready reckoner for the entire company. It defines the rules of engagement and helps set the right expectations - for the employer as well as employees.
Here are six things to address in your company’s remote work policy:
- Specify hours of work with time zone overlaps
- Make provisions for asynchronous collaboration
- Add guidelines for information security
- Set clear expectations on compensation & benefits
- Establish a code of conduct for the organization
- Meet compliance and regulatory requirements
Need help understanding if remote work is right for your business? We created The Flock Guide to Building Great Remote Teams with leaders like you in mind.
1. Specify hours of work with time zone overlaps
Quantity and specificity are the two dynamics at play here. How many hours do you expect your remote employee to work on any given day? More importantly, what hours do you expect them to work?
Depending on business requirements, you can set a strict schedule or let employees decide on their own how many hours they work. Some remote companies even go as far ignoring the number of hours worked in favor of measuring outcomes.
AY Technologies’ Amin Yazdani considers the second question more challenging: “When should I be available? Is it my own timezone, or is it a central time zone for the company or a mix of those?”
Availability at specific hours can be an issue for teams that are spread across the globe, and real-time collaboration can a challenge. Even more so, if your team members are separated by a 12+ hour time difference. For example, in a team with members in New York and Shanghai, some of them will be going to bed just when the rest start their day!
Alex Turnbull at GrooveHQ has a simple solution to this challenge. Find at least one specific time each day when all team members can collaborate in real-time.
Your company’s remote work policy should specify what hours remote employees are supposed to work. Functional groups may have their own cadences, but you need to either get everyone online at the same time for a few hours every single day (sometimes a challenge even in teams working from the same office!) or ensure smooth handoffs between employees in different time zones.
Clearly specify the working hours of your remote team. If they are spread across time zones, ensure that there is some overlap in their working hours.
2. Make provisions for asynchronous collaboration
In remote teams spread across one too many time zones, real-time collaboration is obviously a luxury. While creating schedules with time zone overlaps helps, it is not always possible. The solution? Focus on asynchronous (async) collaboration within the team through planning and communication.
Because waiting for dependencies due to time zone differences can be frustrating, your remote work policy should set clear expectations on handling tasks and follow-ups async. This involves setting ground rules for availability and non-availability and respecting each team member’s time.
In addition, your remote work policy should specify the tools used for real-time and async collaboration - team chat, video conferencing, project management, issue tracking, etc.
Jordan Wan, Founder & CEO of CloserIQ, stresses the importance of a dedicated team chat platform:
“It is one of the most effective tools for remote work. Tools like this make teamwork possible even when certain members are on the other side of the globe.”
At Trello and AY Technologies, video conferencing plays a big part in enabling one-to-one communication. Amin Yazdani cites the relative lack of face-to-face interactions as a reason why video calls are more preferable to chat or email in these situations.
Set clear expectations on handling tasks and follow-ups asynchronously. Specify the tools used for both real-time and async collaboration.
3. Add guidelines for information security
Because a remote team works from both private and public networks (homes, cafes, co-working spaces, etc.), protecting the company’s information systems from unauthorized access is always a challenge. To address this, create information security guidelines and add them to your remote work policy.
GitHub has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy but insists on specific security and safeguards such as secure passwords and always-on firewalls. On the other hand, LiquidSpace and SitePen provide secured devices to their remote employees. No matter which path you choose, detailing them in your remote work policy helps ensure that everyone know what to do.
Create information security guidelines that involve provisioning secure hardware to all remote employees or insist on specific safeguards to be enforced on employee-owned devices.
4. Set clear expectations on compensation & benefits
Major companies that offer remote work options like PwC, USDA, Xerox, and Sodexo say that there should be no major difference in pay or benefits between an office-based role and its remote counterpart.
But you do have some flexibility in setting pay scales for your remote team. For instance, you can make an allowance for the geographical location of your remote employee. The cost of living in New York or LA is obviously higher than, say, Richmond (Indiana) or Harlingen (Texas).
Here are a few factors to consider:
- Compensation for core work hours
- Overtime policy
- Employee benefits
- Company liabilities
- Reimbursement policy for internet bills, IT supplies, co-working space, etc.
Remote.co has some interesting suggestions on benefits that remote employees crave, including paid vacations and company retreats. Attractive employee benefits go a long way in helping businesses retain skilled remote employees.
Work-related injury liabilities may apply to businesses if remote employees are injured at their home office. In Pennsylvania, courts have upheld a remote employee's right to compensation for injuries sustained while working from home. Consult your legal team to know the full extent of your liability when building a remote company.
Set clear expectations on compensation and benefits for remote employees. To attract and retain top talent, you may need to go the extra mile to provide benefits tailored to remote employees’ needs.
5. Establish a code of conduct for the organization
Differences in cultural backgrounds and sensibilities are often a strength for remote teams. However, they can also lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, especially when most of their communication is async. Establishing a code of conduct for internal and external communications can pre-empt any damaging faux pas that may arise due to ‘virtual distance’.
Establish a code of conduct for the organization (including remote employees) to pre-empt any cultural misunderstandings.
6. Meet compliance and regulatory requirements
Remote work may not be explicitly covered by your local employment laws, so you’ll need to consult a legal expert about compliance regulations. There is also the issue of evolving laws related to online communication, like the European Union’s GDPR. Since telecommuting is at the core of remote work, provisions from these laws may be applicable to your business.
Work with your legal team to put together a document that lets your remote employees know what they need to keep in mind when creating, using, and sharing data with each other and/or outside the business.
Check local laws to ensure compliance when crafting your remote work policy. Online data and privacy laws like the recent EU GDPR are very relevant for remote work.
Tailor your remote work approach
Your remote work policy needs to be tailored to your unique business requirements. Addressing these points around hours of work, collaboration tools, security guidelines, compensation and benefits, code of conduct, and compliance requirements is a great way to start doing just that!
This post was updated in March 2020 with new information.