Those lucky enough to be able to continue working from home during the pandemic generally found themselves to be more (or at least as) productive at home than they had ever been in the office. In fact, the pandemic gave workers a new perspective on their work habits and their jobs in general: Now, just over half of employees show a strong preference for working from home at least three days a week. Of course, there were also challenges—childcare, network security, work/life harmony, and more—but remote or hybrid work may just be one of the positive legacies of the pandemic.
As a manager, you’ll likely see more requests for hybrid arrangements going forward, even though not every job (nor every employee) is the ideal work-from-home candidate. You might also soon find yourself wondering if you need a formal set of policies that govern remote and hybrid work.
The answer: Yes, you need a work from home policy.
Regardless of how your company is implementing its back-to-work plan, you’re likely to find yourself navigating some unfamiliar territory as a result of the new remote and hybrid work arrangements. The best thing you can do is clarify expectations, both for those employees and for yourself, with a formal work from home policy.
As someone who founded an entirely remote company long before the pandemic, I can say that the keys to success in forging any type of work from home policy is to ground it in three things: trust, results, and communication.
Trust: Stepping Back From Surveillance
Even pre-COVID, managers everywhere were eagerly trying to measure employee productivity in terms of keystrokes and screencaps. A 2019 Gartner report revealed that out of the 239 large corporations they surveyed, 50% were already monitoring their employees by either:
- Reviewing the content of their emails
- Monitoring their social media accounts
- Assessing who they met with and how they utilized their workspaces
This type of surveillance doesn’t lead to better work or greater company loyalty, but rather the opposite—employees who are subjected to corporate surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by this monitoring and afraid to speak up. It’s a recipe for disaster as employees experience anxiety and burnout. And to top it all off, being watched actually tends to decrease their measured productivity.
This type of surveilling indicates that most companies base their management techniques on a sense of mistrust. But the research says that just doesn’t make sense. A company gets more for its money if it can keep stress levels low and foster a feeling of mutual respect. Employees simply get more work done as a result.
A company doesn’t buy a person’s time, they buy a person’s work.
Any work-from-home policy should be built on an assumption of trust that employees will do their work, with integrity as the default, rather than spending time and money trying to ensure they can’t cut corners.
Results: Measuring Output From Remote Employees
In a corporate atmosphere built on trust and respect, managers value the time and mental health of their employees, and they’re concerned with results—not the number of hours spent sitting at a desk. Of course, remote work removes the ability of managers to watch over people directly, which can lead to some anxiety.
Job descriptions may need to be reimagined in this new era of work in order to make responsibilities and workloads more clear. Job descriptions should be detailed, and the amount of work to be completed should be measurable in some way if possible.
Thinking about productivity in terms of results rather than strict time management can help build trust and affinity for an employer. Of course, this is only if employees and managers are on the same page in terms of expectations about what the job entails. This is especially true if those who work from home feel they’re productive during non-traditional hours. In these cases, it may be best to relax some rules with regard to the exact timing of the workday, so long as employees are still available to attend virtual meetings or respond to urgent messages at busy times.
Clarifying a job description and work plan for remote and hybrid employees also helps combat distrust among co-workers, especially when some people are required to work in the office. Suspicions about coworkers not pulling their weight can lead to lower company morale overall. To help combat those ideas, focus on finding ways to increase communication among team members on a daily basis.
Finally, it may be the case that remote workers’ hours will be slightly lower because they are more productive at home. That’s when it’s most important for employers to remember that they do not own the time of their employees, but rather they pay for professional output.
Communication: The key to maintaining connections
Just because an employee is able to work from home doesn’t mean their jobs can bleed over into their personal time. Email and text messages already make us available 24/7, and this wreaks havoc on our mental health. A good work from home policy will be very clear about how communications tools should be used by all employees.
For example, using Slack to check up on employees throughout the day is only going to slow them down. While there may be certain times of the day when messages need to be answered within minutes, if your concern is productivity, Slack should be treated more like a bulletin board—one that employees can look at when they’re taking a break from the task at hand.
In addition, create a “turn off/tune out” policy to avoid confusion about what employees and managers owe one another in terms of availability. Train your company managers to send out emails during work hours only—not whenever the mood strikes them.
Business Calls From Home: Expectations About Professionalism
Even if your employees will spend the bulk of their days working alone on a computer screen, there may be times they need to interact with coworkers, customers, and business partners via Zoom (or some other video conferencing platform).
If you have expectations around video calls, your work from home policy should state them clearly. Do they need specific technology tools? Are they expected to use video rather than just audio (turning their camera off)? Do you have standards or guidelines with regard to the employee’s video meeting background? In addition to outlining your expectations, you can make things easier by providing all remote and hybrid employees with a work-appropriate backdrop that either reflects your company brand or meets prescribed standards of professionalism.
Write A Clear But Flexible Work From Home Policy
There’s no good template for such a policy since job duties can be drastically different—even within companies! But creating a list of duties and thinking about communication standards can help clarify a lot of things. It may even reveal gaps in job descriptions or, in cases where you can’t build a solid list of tasks to accomplish, it might also reveal which roles aren’t filling your company’s needs.
There should be room for flexibility at first, but never ambiguity about what’s expected. So ask yourself these questions before, during, and after creating a specific work-from-home policy for your employees:
Your goal is to set up your employees for success so they can do their best work. Trust that you’ve made a good hire, measure employees’ productivity by output, and set reasonable expectations for communication, and then get out of the way. More than likely you’ll see similar results as when they were in the office—maybe even better.