Draft a Robust Work From Home (WFH) Policy, Here’s How.
Never before has work from home (WFH) received so much public attention. The COVID-19 crisis has made remote working a necessity, as organisations battle to keep the wheels turning in the face of unprecedented social and business restrictions, and escalated fear. The pandemic has brought about a change in mindset in the professional community that organisations have been struggling to embrace for some time now.
Coronavirus aside, flexible work arrangements such as WFH have become more and more popular in recent years. Indeed, WFH has been regarded as a genuine ‘win-win’ form of flexibility, with reduced commuting hours and costs, the better chance of work-life balance, while employers benefit by way of savings in office space and other related costs. However, it needs to be managed effectively for it to work seamlessly.
A good work from home policy sets the right expectations and creates channels and infrastructure that not only supports working from home but also tackles challenges that come up when you take employees out of the office. With the right preparation and communication, your team can be just as happy, connected, and productive at home as they are in the office.
As several companies globally are deciding to incorporate this way of working into their structure, it is important from the HR perspective to formulate good WFH policy.
Here are 4 considerations to draft an ideal WFH policy:
1. Set the objective of WFH.
As with all company policies, it is important to set the objective of why we need a work from home policy. The current work from home situation has gone on for three months and it could take longer for companies to work at full strength. There is no clarity on how it can pan out. So it is best to be prepared. It has to be decided whether as an organisation you want to have a permanent WFH policy or want it only in times of crisis like at present.
The objective will guide the decisions about who can work from home and also set a time frame for the WFH policy accordingly. The objective should clearly outline:
• The purpose: Why are we introducing this policy? For example: to provide flexibility to our employee or to ensure all employees’ safety during the lockdown or to enable continuity of work during the pandemic or similar such situations
• The eligibilities: Who is eligible to WFH? Are there any exceptions? More importantly, who can not WFH? For example: The policy is for all employees including interns, part-timers & on probation employees or only applicable for permanent employees or only for sales executives
• The duration: Is it permanent or temporary? depending on the purpose and eligibilities the time frame will automatically emerge. The duration should also include how often will it be reviewed? For example: This policy applies to all employees only till the end of the pandemic or till social distancing norms is relaxed. This policy will be reviewed every quarter and further timelines will be issued about the policies continuity.
2. Define the terms of the WFH policy clearly.
Another clear challenge that has emerged from working from home is you have to schedule things, and can’t make split-second decisions easily. For example, you can’t just knock on your boss’ cabin for guidance on a critical, time-bound project. But this will not be so simple while WFH. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming and restrictive having to wait for simple feedback to move ahead on something. This can be reduced by defining terms of work around how and when managers or team leaders can be contacted during the day.
A good policy always defines key terms right at the beginning to that everyone is on the same page and there is no room for he said- she said. Some key terms that your work from home policy must include:
• Work from home – You need to define what you consider WFH. Also write what is not considered as WFH. For example: working from if an employee is out of town but still in touch and delivering work, is that considered as WFH or does the employee have to apply for leave?
• Hours of work – Your WFH policy should clearly state when and for how long employees are expected to work in a day. Also, be explicit about the time limit after which no employee is expected to respond to an email or take calls beyond the stipulated work hours. For example, you could say employees have to be unquestionably available to their team members between 9 am to 6 pm unless they have excused themselves for a reason.
• Break time – When and for how long can an employee be away for a break during work hours. This helps to ensure a broad schedule for the entire organisation as well. For example: It helps to set a specific lunch hour and short break time, in the WFH context this will help save a lot of coordination.
• Expected response time – What is the organisations’ stance on the acceptable time duration in which one must respond to any communication. For example: You could have a standard turn-around-time (TAT) of 4 hours or you could also go into details and set a TAT for certain broadheads such as internal feedback & approval – 24 hours, response to client emails – 4 hours, TAT for a callback – 2 hours.
3. Outline the processes of WFH.
A robust process is an integral part of any policy. It enables us to keep the vigilance at the same time ensure standardisation. While you have already covered who can apply for WFH in the eligibilities, the following details should be defined as processes:
• How to apply for WFH? Are there any forms to be filled? This is especially so for those organisations where the policy applies to only a select group of employees. It should outline where such a form is available and who should it be submitted to. For the post-Covid scenario, it should also outline ‘terms of approval’ (if any) based on which the employee will be granted or denied WFH. If it applies to all employees, even then there should be a format in which employees inform the SPOC about when they will WFH and when they will report to the office.
• Escalation Matrix – It should be clear in the policy as to who all have authority to take action in the WFH policy. First, who all can approve WFH? Secondly, who has the veto? Third, in case there is a conflict or complaint, who will mediate them. What process will be followed to resolve the matter? The employee must know who they can approach if they feel there is a breach of the policy, what process to follow if they want to inform the organisation about the breach.
When you don’t define and outline the processes at the outset when a problem crops up you have to take on the spot decisions and things go out of hand. A good policy will address all the possible questions so it is easy for everybody. There should be no room for doubt and on the spot thinking.
4. Consequences in case of breach of policy.
A simple example to compare is earned leaves. Beyond 21 days, any leaves an employee takes will be deducted from their salary. Similarly, rules have to be in place for WFH also to make it simpler.
You need to understand the new business context, draw insights from the past three months of WFH; get inputs and feedback from employees & managers to define what is critical and what behaviours & actions will be considered a breach of WFH policy. This section of the policy will cover:
• Breach of policy – write down actions that are unacceptable while working from home. It may be a short or long list, very specific or generic, but the idea is to proactively outline unacceptable behaviours. For example: if an employee doesn’t attend 3 consecutive weekly update calls with the team they will have to explain why (if they haven’t excused themselves with a valid reason already with their team leaders).
• Consequences of breaching the policy – what possible actions may be taken against any employee who is found guilty of breaching the policy. The consequences can be mild or strict, could be defined separately for each behaviour you outline in the ‘breach of policy section’. For example: if an employee has missed 3 consecutive weekly updates will they have to apply for one day’s leave?
Realise it or not, implementing your WFH policy will require change management. When you begin to draft it in detail, you will understand that it is linked to other employee policies such as leave policy, reimbursement policy, code of conduct, travel allowance, to name a few. So, to do justice to your WFH policy, you will also need to implement changes where appropriate. In the new normal, we all need to remember that our goal might be to regularise things as far as possible but achieving that means acknowledgement and adoption of new behaviours. Using these tips to set the right expectations for your employees will help ensure the smooth functioning of your organisation, and ensure their success.
Yellow Spark believes that good company policies are the backbone of a good work environment. We can help you revisit your employee policy handbook, identify the gaps and help you to convert your policy manual from a mere book to actual practice. To know more, write to us on – firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.