Companies that allow occasional work from home, or that are fully remote are growing in numbers. The employees like to have this option, but more employers are also seeing benefits in this. And if you’re still thinking whether you should jump on the bandwagon, you probably have a ton of questions regarding the specifics and the transitioning process.
But, before we jump in, we should discuss terms used to describe this kind of work. The general term used for companies allowing employees to work from home (to some extent or fully) is remote friendly. However, you would typically use this to describe a company that allows its employees to work from home a few days per month.
On the other hand you have remote first companies, that don’t have offices, and everyone in the company works remotely. If you’re starting a remote first company, there’s another guide we created. It’s called The Ultimate Guide to Creating and Managing a Remote Team, and we recommend you check that out.
Who Is This Guide For?
This guide is made for companies that are thinking about letting their employees work from home occasionally. It was created out of best practices remote first companies use to manage their teams, but any company planning to allow working from home can and should apply them.
You should also note that if you’re planning to let employees work from home once per month, you probably won’t need to make any changes to your processes, but if you’re opting in for more days there are systems, processes and tools you can’t overlook.
Before we start talking about benefits, and share some essential tips you should know before creating a work from home policy, we should also address some of the key concerns employers have about this type of work:
- Slacking and low productivity levels - it’s much easier to get distracted at home;
- Data security - are employees using secure networks;
- Troubleshooting - what happens if a piece of software/hardware malfunctions;
- Overworking - will employees have a hard time distinguishing between private and work time;
- Under communication - will everyone be kept in the loop at all times;
Benefits of Letting Employees Work From Home
Most people don’t know what the benefits of working from home are, so it’s natural they are skeptical. But, it’s not just managers who aren’t certain this type of work is for them, there are employees who aren’t pro-remote oriented and you can’t expect that everyone can or wants to work this way.
However, those employees who like working remotely, and who have the opportunity to work from home sometimes are generally happier compared to employees who spend their working days in the office. The main reason is that their quality of life can improve in many different ways.
Less Sick Days
First of all, they’ll take less sick days. Employees who are mildly sick, or coming down with a flu, but can still work don’t have to come into the office to perform their duties and risk getting someone else sick. Additionally, this way, they’re able to rest and get over it sooner.
If fixed working hours aren’t really your thing, your team has the opportunity to finish a lot of private matters when they’re working from home. They can organize the working schedule according to their needs, in order to do some home repairs, wait for their deliveries, or finish up work regarding their government issued papers. Additionally, they can spend more time with their families, pick up the kids from school, take them to their practices, and so on.
Less Commute Time
Nobody likes spending an hour (or even more) in traffic, switching between public transports in order to get to work. The longer their commute, the more exhausted your workers are when they actually get into the office. Meaning, they’re more likely to slack, talk to coworkers and browse the web instead of working. By allowing them to work remotely sometimes, you’re saving them a lot of time on commuting and actually making them more productive.
More Attractive Job Offerings
According to FlexJobs, over the last 12 years, the number of people who work remotely has grown by 159%! And as more people look at this perk as one of the most important ones, you need to stay competitive on the market. For example, when asked to grade the benefits from companies, parents have put remote work before higher salaries.
Moreover, most people aren’t willing to commute more than an hour to get to work, but if you’re letting them work from home a few days per week they might reconsider.
Access to a Larger Labour Pool
If, after some time, you decide to let your employees work remotely full time, you can start hiring talent from all over the world. By then, you’ll already go through all ups and downs of managing a remote workforce, and you’ll be ready for any challenges that might come along.
And probably the main reason why companies are turning to remote work is the savings. Companies are saving on office space, supplies, kitchen stocks, etc. On the other hand, workers are saving on car-related expenses because they aren’t driving the car as much. They’re also saving on food costs, because they’re more likely to eat a home prepared meal if they’re actually working from home. And last but not the least, they have lower wardrobe expenses (especially if your company has a formal dress code).
In the end, you shouldn’t forget that research has shown that employees that work from home are more productive, and who doesn’t want a more productive team?
Can All Teams Work From Home?
Generally, almost all teams except those who need to have in-person contact with customers can work from home. However, this option boomed among IT companies first, and the majority of people who telecommute work in customer support. Even the enterprises who are slowly introducing this option are usually testing it with these teams.
Next up there are marketing teams, particularly writers who work remotely. Designers, software developers, project managers, and so on.
Most sales calls and product demos are done online nowadays, so it doesn’t really make a lot of difference if your sales person is sitting next to you, or at home.
Recently, other professions have been pursuing remote opportunities, such as consultants and accountants. Most of these roles aren’t required 8 hours per day, every day of the week, so it makes sense to hire them on a need-to basis.
Given the vast amount of tech tools that are currently available, work of these people won’t be affected because they’ll have the software to work on wherever they’re located.
You should also be aware that not every employee you have is cut out for working remotely, and that is fine. Those who are usually good for this type of work are self-starters, motivators, who are extremely independent and self-disciplined. When you work in an office, other people are working around you, and there’s sort of a peer pressure to keep working, remote offices are far more distracting, especially to people who’ve never worked this way before.
Excellent time management and communication skills are also a must. Again, when working from home, your employees will need to organize their own schedules. Additionally, their collaboration with the team will be based on online communication, so you must ensure they have strong communication skills.
Most Important Factors to Think About
We will dedicate this section to some of the most important aspects of business you must take into consideration prior to allowing employees to work from home.
One of the biggest concerns managers have when deciding to allow remote work is how the team will function if they aren’t sharing the same offices. Yes, they will still rely on the same tools they’re using when they’re in the office, but sometimes it’s just much easier to approach a coworker to discuss project progress than to write lengthy emails or Slack messages.
While it’s still important to get as much face time as possible when you work with a remote team, you must ensure that you have everything in writing. If you’re using one of the project management tools, make sure you leave comments about arrangements that were made so everyone is aware of any updates.
Slack has become one of the key tools if every team’s toolbox - remote or not. But it also brought some Slacking. Each new notification interrupts the workflow, and when you have a large team it’s inevitable that notices will keep popping up all the time. Which is why you should embrace asynchronous communication. Don’t expect from your team to be online at all times, let them know it’s alright to use the Do Not Disturb mode so they can focus on their work.
It’s very easy to under communicate in a remote environment, which is why you should create some rules, as well as proper channels of communication for all teams. When there’s an urgent issue that needs to be fixed as soon as possible use calls, or even SMS. When you’re discussing products, projects, customers, marketing, etc. create separate channels for each topic, and only include the people who need to be included. Jonathan from Accounting doesn’t really care about your new content clusters. Don’t worry about over communicating, since there’s a better chance you’ll miss on saying something important than saying too much.
You should also create a place where employees can chat about random things, like how their day is going, or if they’ve seen a good movie lately - this channel replaces office chit-chat and it’s crucial for maintaining a good relationship among team members.
Collaboration can be simplified with the same system, but you’ll also need a project management tool and cloud-based tools so that employees can access important files wherever they are.
Since we mentioned project management tools, it’s time to talk about how to manage projects when your employees are working from home. First of all, it’s important that everyone is aware of what role they play in the project, as well as how their contribution (or the lack of) affects the whole process.
Next up, you must think about delegation. When you delegate tasks for the new project try to break them down into smaller chunks. This way, it will be easier for managers and team leaders to track project progress, but it will also help the employees. Namely, they’ll be able to organize their schedule better, but they’ll also be able to scratch many different tasks off their lists because of the sense of accomplishment each completion will give them. Additionally, tasks with long deadlines cause people to procrastinate more, so you should think about that before you start chopping down your project.
However, you should be mindful not to break down the tasks which are closely connected during the execution because it can be hard for your team members to see the bigger picture this way.
Whether your team is collocated or not, everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions, good or bad. The first step towards this is ensuring everyone knows what they’re in charge of. Meaning, the communication among team leaders and employees must be clear and straightforward. You can’t expect to hold someone accountable for something they haven’t done if they didn’t even know they were supposed to do that.
Besides clearly communicating the assignments, you must ensure everybody knows when the deadline is and what is expected from the output. To make sure everyone is on the task, you can introduce the use of work from home monitoring software which can help you obtain proof of work, but we’ll talk about these tools later in the guide.
Whenever the project is done, gather the team to share feedback, give praise and go over issues that have come up in the process.
It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
Nothing is ever perfect, and you can expect to run into some bumps while you’re transitioning to a work from home company.
Even though working from home will allow you to cut down on some major company costs, in the beginning this transformation can require a budget you weren’t expecting. This budget is supposed to cover the costs of initial employee training., especially related to data security. Additionally, you may need to provide employees with more suitable equipment to work from home.
The whole process of slowly transitioning to working from home probably won’t go smoothly in the beginning. Employees will need time to adjust, and you can expect issues like lower productivity levels, or communication issues. It’s important that you take your time, discuss these challenges with your team and work on possible solutions.
You should also expect that certain aspects of occasional remote work will annoy your employees. For example, some people find it difficult to differentiate between the place where they work and the place where they relax. In an ideal scenario, all your employees would have some sort of a home office, or at least a dedicated space where they’ll work. It’s a good idea to share some simple and effective tips they can follow in order to adjust quicker.
The lack of fact-to-face time won’t be an issue if your team is teleworking a few days per month, but it’s not impossible that there will be occasional situations in which it would be better to meet personally to resolve the issue at hand.
Work from home could mean longer hours for some people, they’ll keep thinking “let me just finish this one thing,” and it’s inevitable that it will prolong. We definitely advise you to show your employees that they should still stick to the schedule and the usual working hours, without doing unnecessary overtime.
You can also introduce a work from home timesheet tool to help them track how many hours they’ve been working to ensure they’re not overworking themselves.
If you see that this type of working isn’t suitable for your team, there’s no shame in shutting down the program. You’re probably aware that IBM is one of the pioneers when it comes to teleworking. Back in 1979 they tested work from home, and by 1983 around 2,000 of their employees were working from home. By 2009, they’ve released a report which stated that 40% of their employees (around 368,000) don’t have an office. With this move, IBM was able to save nearly $2 billion! However, in 2017 they’ve reversed their work from home policy, and brought back thousands of their employees back to the offices.
Judith Olson, a distance work expert shared her opinion on the topic, and stated that IBM maybe realized that their remote workers are invisible, and that they have no idea what the person is doing, what type of distractions they’re dealing with. On the other hand, employees had no idea what’s happening with the managers.
Of course, this is more of a challenge in a fully remote team, but you can try to minimize it by maintaining regular and open communication with the team working from home. Let them freely share the struggles they’re facing when working from their living rooms. Listen, don’t criticize, and create potential solutions for them.
Planning and Execution of Working From Home Policy
Before you even start planning your work from home strategy, you must identify what are the reasons you want to adopt this policy, because your plan, goals and execution will heavily depend on what you want to achieve by letting employees work from home.
You should do an assessment of the teams that will work from home, and map all of their processes. It’s inevitable that some of these procedures will need to change, but you should also check if there are any that need to stay intact.
Afterwards, you need to list responsibilities and duties of every employee who will be working from home, to analyze how their job roles will be affected by this change. Make sure you keep an eye on the critical assignments, and make sure you have strategies in place in case something goes wrong on them.
Generally speaking, most companies can plan their work from home by following four simple steps:
- Select a project management tool your team will use (if you already use one, there’s no need to switch to another provider);
- Map all current tasks your employees have, add them to the tool and assign them appropriately;
- Make sure that all meeting minutes are mapped in your project management tool, and that the tasks are created based on those minutes;
- Start tracking time spent on each task to ensure productivity, but also that the deadlines will be met.
- If you’re a manager, experiment by stepping out of the office for a few days and work from home. This test will show you if you still have control over what’s happening in your team, but it will also show you which areas you need to improve for the work from home to function smoothly.
Furthermore, you should review all policies and make sure they’re in line with the work from home option. Even better, create a special work from home policy, handbook or guidelines your remote employees will follow. These policies usually include the best practices on data protection, usage of the devices and software they’re given, as well as the measures which will be taken in case any of the rules get broken. Handbooks are really a necessity, because they are a go-to resource if your employees have any queries regarding their occasional work from home arrangement.
If you need help to create the work from home policy, you can download our free template here.
Head of HR and Co-Founder at Zety.
Tools You Can’t Do Without
In the age of digital transformation it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t many software you rely on in your organization. However, for your team to keep functioning as usual even when working from home, you should ensure you’re using cloud-based software.
Luckily, the market is swamped with them, and you’ll probably be able to find any software you need in a cloud environment.
There are several types of tools you’ll need if you want to allow remote work. The first on the list are communication and collaboration tools. You’re probably already using Teams, Skype for Business, Slack, or anything else that allows you to stay in touch with your coworkers. When working from home, your employees might need to rely more on these tools, so make sure you’re perfectly happy with how they work - there are no bugs, downtimes, etc. Also, make sure you get video conferencing tools in case you have meetings while working remotely.
When it comes to collaboration, the tools depend on the teams who are working remotely. Marketing and sales teams will usually collaborate through G Suite, Hubspot, and Buffer. While your support team might be using Intercom, or Drift.
It’s also important to store crucial files in the cloud, so everyone can access them as necessary.
And how do companies monitor work from home?
Monitoring work from home employees is quite simple if you’re looking to keep an eye on security, accountability, productivity and even attendance. To get this verified proof of work you’ll simply need a work from home tracking tool like Insightful. With our software, the question of how to monitor work from home is easily answered with features like productivity labeling, productivity tracking, screenshots and manual clock-in option. If you want to take a step further you can monitor employees working from home with project and task tracking, so you can be sure everyone is aware of what they need to do, and no deadlines are missed.
Project and task management tools are essential if you want to be sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities for the day. But, it would be best if you could find a time tracker with project management capabilities, so you don’t have to pay for two separate tools.
Emergency Work From Home - 2020 Update
In the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak many companies were forced to shut down their offices and let their teams work from home. Even IBM, that returned almost all of their remote workers to the offices just three years ago, has now issued a work from home recommendation for all employees in the most affected areas. Besides them, other large companies like Coca-Cola, Google, Facebook, PwC have sent their employees on an unplanned work from home trip. By doing this, companies are protecting their employees and ensuring the virus won’t spread across their offices, but they also minimize the risks of spreading given that they’re cutting down on the commute.
Facebook cancelled its F8 developers conference, they’ve also pulled out of the Game Developers Conference. Many other conferences were cancelled, or turned to online only events.
Some of these companies already have work from home policies, so they’re aware of how the system works, employees know what to do, and so on. But what happens to the companies who never did have such policies and now all of a sudden they need to send employees to work remotely for an indefinite time period? These companies are in chaos because employees aren’t aware of basic things like what they should do in case their hardware fails them.
Even if you’re located in a non-affected area, you should start thinking ahead and allow employees to work from home for a day or two, just to practice and see what you can expect out of such a program.
Your emergency work from home plan should be a policy every employee knows. It should detaily explain what this remote work includes, will the meetings be held online (and through which tools), what should they do if they had clients coming in, how to act in case of software/hardware malfunction, etc. If you don’t start planning now, you might be caught by surprise when, at some point, you need to let everyone go home.
Even if your area never gets affected by the current outbreak, there’s no way of knowing if another type of disaster can cause you to unwillingly start working remotely for a while, so it’s good to always be prepared.
The fact is that businesses can gain a lot by allowing their employees to work from home occasionally. Yet, it’s a process that shouldn’t be done as quickly as possible, take your time, evaluate your options, and make sure you have all tools and processes set in place before proceeding.