Working remotely has become a necessity for business owners around the world. Lockdowns have shuttered the doors to millions of businesses, forcing many to adopt teleworking policies.
While telecommuting offers many advantages, from flexible scheduling to increased productivity, it also comes with many challenges.
Maintaining communication & work relations becomes more of a chore outside of the office. You may even notice a loss of work culture.
As the pandemic continues to impact the way we live and work, every business owner should take the time to review their telecommuting policies. Use the following guide to address the challenges of working remotely and reap the benefits!
Set a Work Schedule
The most important rule for working from home is to set a work schedule. Without a schedule, it becomes much easier to put off work for an hour or two in the morning or at any point during the day.
A schedule gives you structure and helps minimize the contrast between working from home and working from an office. A set routine also makes it easier to separate work and personal responsibilities.
When you sit in a home office, you are still just a short walk from the kitchen or the living room. It can be tempting to stop and talk with family or take an extended break.
Review the Latest Regulations in Your Area
Before developing a remote work policy, review the regulations in your local jurisdiction and state. Each region has different lockdown requirements to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Some states only allow certain businesses to remain open to customers. Regulations may also require you to limit the number of people inside the building.
Failure to comply with regulations could cost your business. You may face fines and penalties, which may make it even more challenging to keep your business open during a pandemic.
Determine Who Can Work From Home
Depending on the type of business that you run, some positions may not be suited for remote work. Jobs that require access to physical resources may not be eligible for telework.
For example, a worker on the assembly floor of a manufacturing plant cannot remotely operate the equipment and inspect parts. However, in an office setting, you can likely find ways to accommodate teleworking for almost any position.
After deciding who can work from home, consider how often they should work from home. Are you planning on letting employees work remotely full-time? Do you want them to divide their time between the home and the office?
Some businesses have a rotating schedule of remote workers. Half of the employees may work from home on Monday while the other half stays at the office. On Tuesday, the employees switch.
You may also have specific dates when you need more workers physically present or blackout dates where everyone needs to come in. These details should be carefully considered and outlined.
Create a Detailed Remote Work Policy
After following the previous steps, begin compiling a remote work policy. Along with an explanation of who is eligible for remote work, your policy should cover:
The goal of a remote work policy is to create a set of standards for staff to follow. If everyone remains on the same page, you are less likely to experience some of the headaches associated with remote work.
1. Set Expectations for Remote Workers
The policy that you develop should include a list of the positions that are eligible for remote work, along with work expectations. Outline the expected availability for teleworkers.
You may want teleworkers to remain available during normal business hours or you may decide that they can set their own hours. You may also require them to come into the office on certain days.
Along with the work schedule, the policy should cover the responsibilities of your staff and supervisors. This may include calling in for daily meetings or checking in with supervisors throughout the day.
2. Choose Metrics for Tracking Productivity
The changes to work arrangements make it harder to track productivity. While teleworking often results in increased productivity, you still need a way to monitor the output of your employees.
Decide what metrics to use to track productivity. For a sales department, you may want to track total sales and the number of cold calls made. Other employees may need to complete a specific number of projects each week.
If you cannot find a tangible metric for tracking productivity, require employees to check in and report their progress at the end of each workday. This provides a snapshot of the work completed, allowing you or a supervisor to monitor the output of each employee more closely.
3. Allocate Resources to Remote Workers
You and your employees will likely require specific equipment or software for remote work.
Avoid letting employees use personal devices for work-related tasks. Everyone should use dedicated laptops or tablets that are used solely for work.
Review any additional resources that employees may need at home. Remote workers may find it easier to stay productive with noise-canceling headphones, a better Wi-Fi router, or even a second monitor. Decide whether you want to reimburse employees for any of these expenses.
4. Establish Remote Communication Methods
Telecommuting creates communication barriers that can impact productivity and the quality of work. If employees do not fully understand their roles and responsibilities, they cannot meet expectations.
To address the challenges of communicating outside of the office, establish a clear set of rules. Determine which technologies and software to use for sending memos, sharing files, and other communications.
Some of the most common teleconferencing and collaboration tools include Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype. The software that you choose should be available for everyone.
Along with choosing technologies, decide how frequently you should coordinate with staff. For example, you may want to have daily meetings in the morning to ensure that everyone remains on the same page.
5. Consult with IT to Address Security Concerns
Allowing staff to work remotely brings additional IT security concerns, especially when sharing files or sending emails containing potentially sensitive information.
Coordinate with your IT department to review any potential security issues. The biggest risks are related to the communication methods that you choose.
Many businesses use virtual private networks (VPNs) to securely share files. A VPN establishes a secure connection between the office network and a home network, allowing employees to access files and software as if they were still in the office.
Along with security concerns, work with IT staff to establish technical support solutions for remote workers. Some employees may struggle to adapt to new technologies or software. Expect at least a few calls for help in the early days.
Distribute Your Remote Work Policy to the Entire Team
The policy that you create should be shared throughout the entire organization. Everyone from the top down should understand their roles and duties and the responsibilities of their co-workers.
Keep in mind that a remote work policy does not address all the challenges of telecommuting. You still need to consider:
After implementing your work policy, create initiatives and programs to keep employees engaged and connected.
Treat Remote Workers and In-House Workers the Same
The staff that mostly work from home may feel left out. This is especially true when only a portion of employees work remotely.
The employees that still show up to the office benefit from direct interaction with supervisors and managers. The face-to-face interactions give these employees an advantage when it comes to career advancement opportunities.
Remote workers often face the risk of being overlooked for promotions or special assignments. Avoid this problem by treating everyone the same. Provide the same opportunities for advancement to both remote workers and office workers.
Arrange Fun Remote Activities for the Entire Staff
Positive work relations are an essential part of running a successful business. The comradery and team spirit that many managers try to promote often becomes lost when you implement remote work policies.
To foster stronger work relations, arrange fun activities that everyone can participate in. Before the pandemic, offices often celebrated team members’ birthdays, retirements, and reaching company goals. Find ways to recreate these activities remotely, such as a group chat outside of scheduled business hours.
Last Thoughts on Running a Business Remotely
Establishing telecommuting policies requires you to consider the needs of both your business and your employees. You need to first create a detailed policy that outlines the responsibilities of each member of the staff. You should also find ways to keep employees connected and engaged, such as virtual gatherings.
As a final suggestion, try to maintain a fluid approach to remote work. Some of the decisions that you make now may not work as planned. Give yourself room to continue adapting and revising your policies.
If you continue treating the happiness and productivity of your staff with equal concern, you may soon find yourself running a successful business from outside the office.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.