Although remote work is now widely seen as a temporary measure in response to COVID-19, it’s safe to assume it will become the norm very soon. Before the pandemic, remote work was already on the rise, increasing by 159 percent between 2005 and 2017. It’s a highly desirable perk, especially among millennials, and 85 percent of businesses report remote work can help increase productivity.
To enjoy the full benefits of remote work, however, organizations must establish clear, comprehensive remote work policies. That way, they can avoid the common pitfalls that often prevent businesses from reaping the rewards of telecommuting.
In particular, remote work policies should account for the following three factors:
1. Technical Support
Technical difficulties are bound to happen every once in a while, and they have a bad habit of cropping up at the most inconvenient times. When an in-house worker runs into a frozen computer or speakers that no longer work, the IT team can step in to assist. Even in the absence of an in-house IT team, a worker in an office can always move to a spare computer and get right back to work.
In a remote environment, solving technical issues isn’t as easy. IT is no longer down the hall — they might be halfway across the country. And few employees keep extra computers sitting around at home.
Remote work became a necessity practically overnight, which meant organizations had to scramble to adjust. Without any time to prepare or establish new processes, IT teams are now responsible for managing employees’ technological woes on a much larger scale.
It’s not too late to remedy that situation: Your remote work policy should clearly specify the procedures for addressing technological issues in a remote environment. Outline the level of support your IT team will offer to remote workers, and include information about the best people to contact whenever issues arise. It’s also a good idea to compile a technology FAQ to help employees address common technical issues on their own.
2. Security Threats
Security threats are another major pitfall organizations often face when shifting to a remote environment. Even before the pandemic, businesses were major targets for cybercriminals. With the majority of employees now working from home, much of your business is being conducted through unmanaged routers, faulty firewalls, and unsecured networks. It should come as no surprise, then, that cyberattacks have risen right alongside remote work.
IT teams and business owners must be fully aware of the cybersecurity risks associated with working from home. Organizations should educate their employees about the risks they face and, critically, share information about additional precautions they can take to avoid attacks. Remote work policies should clearly delineate the activity employees can or cannot do on company devices. To go a step further, you may also want to mandate the use of security tools like password management solutions on company computers.
3. Productivity Measurement
Even before the pandemic, how organizations measured employee productivity was a highly debated topic, and it was well-established that employees are rarely capable of sustaining full productivity for an entire eight-hour workday. In fact, research shows the average employee only gets about three hours of truly productive work done in a single workday.
While remote work removes some of the most common office distractions, it also adds brand new ones, like letting the dog out or managing children’s remote schoolwork. To keep employees engaged in the face of these new challenges, your remote work policy should establish regular touchpoints between managers and employees throughout the workday or workweek. Your policy should also outline the appropriate levels of communication between employees and their managers, including expectations of availability, standard response times, and the modes of communication that should be used.
There are also a variety of tools on the market to help organizations keep track of employee work in a remote environment, and your organization may want to consider adopting some of them. Workplace management tools such as Asana and Monday.com can help track projects, while communication tools such as Slack and Zoom can keep teams connected. The consistent interaction and continuous accountability of these tools can keep employees on track toward their goals, regardless of the challenges of remote work.
As organizations draft or revamp their remote work policies for today’s environment, it is important they are tailoring their policies to the specific challenges of the moment. Obstacles such as the lack of technical support, maintaining productivity, and security threats can easily derail remote work if left unaddressed. By creating a sound remote work policy, a company can mitigate common problems before the damage is done.
Matt Thomas is the president of WorkSmart Systems, Inc.
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Matt Thomas is the president of Indianapolis-based WorkSmart Systems, Inc., which he founded in 1998. He is active with the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), and he has dedicated more than 20 years to the PEO industry dating back to his early career with industry leaders ADP and NovaCare Employee Services.