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Work-from-home policies help employers manage in changing times

By Brent Smith on Sunday, March 15th 2020

work from home policy

More companies tell employees to work from home as COVID-19 spreads

As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, more and more employers are asking clients to work from home. It’s an essential step for many organizations to create social distance while keeping business running as smoothly as possible. Many employers, however, have taken the precautionary measure without having a work-at-home policy in place.

Benefits of having work-at-home employees

Even if you’ve already started having employees work from home, it’s not too late to establish a policy. And having such a policy in place can be beneficial in more routine times, not just during a pandemic. It can increase productivity in certain circumstances, and it has the potential to improve employees’ work-life balance and thereby job satisfaction.  

Establish a work-from-home policy now

A work-from-home policy can help you avoid those challenges. Developing and communicating a clear plan can set expectations from the get-go and apply routinely as well as during times of crisis.

What should a work-from-home policy include?

As you develop your work-from-home policy, be sure to address these seven essential elements.

  1. Purpose — State the purpose of the policy as a lead-in to when, why, how and which employees will be allowed to work from home.
  2. Scope — In this section, establish limitations for frequency and identify who is eligible to work at home. Employees who work in an assembly line, for example, would likely be ineligible because they can’t perform their core work outside your plant. On the other hand, you may extend the option to a salesperson who frequently travels or someone who works primarily at a desk. To determine who will be eligible, consider these factors:
    • The nature of the employee’s job.
    • Whether the employee has the proper equipment to do their work from home.
    • Whether data privacy and cybersecurity measures are needed and in place.
    • The employee’s home environment and whether it’s conducive to the work to be performed.
    • How much face-to-face team communication is required to be productive — both for the employee working at home and the team working in the office.
  3. Allowance — When will eligible employees be allowed to work from home? Here, you can specify conditions or circumstances in which working from home will be allowed (e.g., child care situations, projects where employees can accomplish more work more quickly from home, after a string of travel days, etc.). You can also indicate here certain days of the week for employees who qualify for ongoing work-from-home arrangements. Consider reasons such as:
    • Family situations
    • Dangerous weather
    • Distance of commute
    • Medical treatment or illness
    • Work-life balance
    • Personal emergencies
  4. Expectations — Spell out precisely what you expect of the employee when working from home. You can prescribe specific work hours, hours of availability and a communications protocol (e.g., anticipated response times and communication methods for staying tuned to colleagues in the office).
  5. Productivity — Explain how you’ll measure productivity and performance to ensure working from home is working for all.
  6. Procedures — Describe the process for submitting a work-from-home and how the request will be evaluated.
  7. Termination — While you likely have this covered in your existing policies, it’s important to note the conditions under which work-from-home privileges can be revoked or employment terminated, while also noting that working from home itself won’t be grounds for termination.

Tips for developing and implementing your policy

As you develop your policy, seek input from employees. They may have eye-opening perspectives that can help ensure a practical and realistic policy.

It’s also important to ground your policy in trust. Assume trust from the outset, just as you do when you hire employees. Resist the temptation to micromanage and simply follow your policy. If it turns out an employee abuses the privilege, your policy will root that out.

Once your policy is set, educate all employees about the policy. Allow them an opportunity to ask questions to ensure understanding.

Finally, evaluate your policy regularly, especially in the early stages of implementation. While you shouldn’t be rash about making changes to it, you also shouldn’t be afraid to adjust it as you see how it works in practice.

Learn from others when creating work-from-home policy

As you set out to create a work-from-home policy, learn from other employers and what has worked for them. You can also find several templates online. Whether you choose to start from scratch or use a template, it’s always a good idea to run it by your employment lawyer. An experienced employment attorney can help you identify potential challenges specific to your business and industry, refine your policy to your workplace and ensure your work-from-home policy is compliant with existing employment laws.

work from home policyArticle by Brent Smith, employment lawyer at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For help with your work-from-home policy, call him at 608-784-5678.

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