A friend of mine runs a company with approximately 300 employees. Eighty percent are totally remote workers, and many of the remaining 20 percent work from home at least some portion of every week.
Over time, his work-from-home policy has grown from one page to more than a dozen. Every time something unusual occurs--like the time a father started taking video calls with his newborn child nestled in one arm--he's added a policy to cover it. (Isn't that always the way with policies?)
Recently, he asked me to review his work-from-home policy. He's tired of being reactive and wants to be proactive. "What am I missing?" he asked. "What should I add?"
I didn't even look at his policy.
"Here are all the guidelines you need," I said.
- Get your work done.
- Be available.
Sound too simple? It's not. Those seven words cover most of the issues you'll face--and if they don't, you can deal with those situations one-off rather than as systemic issues that require a blanket policy.
1. Get your work done.
You have expectations, regardless of where people work: tasks, timelines, goals, deliverables, etc. Ultimately every employee should be evaluated by what he or she does. While you can't wander down the hall to ensure a remote worker is actually working, does that matter?
All you care about is that the work gets done.
"Busy" doesn't guarantee productivity. "Present" doesn't guarantee engagement.
If deliverables aren't being met, deal with that--just like you would for any other employee.
2. Be available.
Whose responsibility is it to try to stay connected: the remote worker's or the home office's? Either opinion is correct, but smart employers assume the responsibility is, no matter what, the employee's.
Expect your remote employees to let other people know when they won't be available and why, and how they can still be contacted in the event of an emergency. Working remotely is a tradeoff: You get more freedom, but you must recognize that with that freedom comes the responsibility of hyper-availability.
Ultimately, you need to be able to talk to your employees when you need to--whether they're down the hall or a continent away.
Casual conversations don't happen when employees work from home. They can't run into people at lunch. They can't stumble into an impromptu meeting with someone from another department. They can't sense shifts in priorities, or potential problems, or trends.
The same is true on the employee side: It's much harder for a boss to know what an employee is contemplating or planning or struggling with, when every interaction is scheduled.
That means an employee working from home needs to overcommunicate. Nothing goes without saying. Everything needs to be said.
Expect your employees to actively suggest new ideas. Expect them to create their own projects and tell you about them. Expect them to set and share personal goals. Expect them to recommend solutions.
On the flip side, expect them to tell you when they're struggling, when they need help, when they need direction, when something--anything--is unclear.
And then make that easy by asking all those questions as often as you can--because while your work-from-home policy describes how you want your employees to behave, it should also describe how you should behave.