The Future of Remote Work
COVID-19 may have galvanized the remote workforce, but working from home will likely long outlast the pandemic. This online resource details what HR leaders should think about when considering a long-term remote-work policy.Get 15 More HR Templates
What does it mean to work remotely?
Businesses are responding to the need for social distancing by transitioning their teams online. But fully remote companies have been working together virtually for some time now. Thanks to technology like Slack and cloud-based collaboration tools, companies can put working from anywhere as one of their core values.
As such, we’ve ended up with distributed workplaces, fully remote companies, and everything in between.
Distributed teams are companies that are spread out. They may have offices where employees previously worked from, while other team members have always worked exclusively from home. They often span countries, time zones, and languages.
Remote companies work together virtually. The company has no fixed location, and every team member works remotely.
Why go remote?
Remote work is officially the new norm. Current global affairs have forced a shift to virtual workplaces and small business owners (SBOs) are trying to transition their teams with as little disruption to daily operations as possible.
While these are demands we’re obligated to meet, the migration to remote work isn’t without some perks.
- Boost productivity on your teams: Remote workers report increased personal productivity from home.
- Increase company-wide engagement: Foster an engaged workforce through the trust working remotely inherently builds.
- Save money on overhead: Cut costs on leases, utilities, office supplies, and security and janitorial services.
Setting expectations for remote work
Clear, documented expectations make remote work satisfying and productive. Be explicit in what you expect from employees and outline how you’ll measure success in each role. Communicate your expectations verbally and document them in a company handbook that lives online for all to access. Create a remote code of conduct to outline remote-specific policies (see our template below!).
Define working hours
And be upfront about them. Does this job require East Coast hours? Attendance at a weekly all-hands meeting? Take measure of what you need from your employees for success and let them know.
The most successful and content remote teams measure outcomes, not hours, but still clarity is important. As you transition to remote, define working hours in terms of:
- Business hours when employees must be online — or not
- Expectations for availability if regular business hours are not mandated
- Daily standup or weekly all-hands meeting employees are required to attend
Define communication and responsivity expectations
It’s important to remember that just because employees are working remotely doesn’t mean they’re available all day.
We know that some roles are more collaborative than others, and many mission-critical roles rely heavily on communication. Formulate your expectations for responsiveness based on role-specific requirements, but with the understanding that we all need focused time to do our best work.
If you rely on, or are used to, a highly collaborative team or work scenario, consider asking employees to respond to “lite requests” within 2 hours, and more detailed ones in 3 hours.
Or move toward asynchronous communication completely, like Doist’s fully remote team. Doist’s ethos on communication is that employees are generally expected to reply within 24 hours. The company says this helps them maintain high levels of productivity as employees are empowered to disconnect and dedicate focused time to work. It also helps keep those across time zones included as individuals respond when they can.
Using sick leave
Safety and wellbeing are top of mind right now for everyone. As an SBO, let your employees know their health is your top priority with a policy which outlines that sick workers are not expected to work.
Create a shared calendar for holiday time and sick days where employees can tag themselves as “out” so all team members can see when who is unavailable and when.
Accessibility and security
All remote companies need to have strong accessibility and security measures in place. Be explicit and communicative who can access what and from where.
Remote SMBs should consider:
- Software update requirements: Have a policy requiring employees keep software up to date on all the devices they’re accessing the company network or email from.
- Virtual private networks: Provide a professional grade VPN for employees to use.
- Full-disk encryption: Make sure physical devices that contain sensitive information are fully encrypted, so even if it’s stolen your SMB is safe.
- Good password hygiene: Prompt employees to change their passwords every 6 months with requirements for strong passwords that include an uppercase letter and at least one symbol.
- Log out policies: Mandate that employees log out when the device is not in use — always!
- Smart use: Be clear about expectations for company property or devices that have access to the network, like putting computers in the trunk of the car and not leaving devices unattending in public.
Sample email template to staff during COVID-19
Subject Line: Employees, Welcome Back to the Office June 05, 2020?
We are excited to announce that our leadership team, in adherence to local and federal law, has deemed it safe and appropriate to reopen our main office for a select group of employees.?
The office will be reopening, with normal operating hours of 9am to 5pm, starting [DATE].?
You will be receiving an email from your direct supervisor with specific instructions for your job role by tomorrow, but a glance here these are the departments that are cleared to work again in the office while following new office conduct guidelines to ensure the safety of our entire team:
- Customer service
Here are the employee groups that we’d advise remain working from home for the time being:
Please note our decisions on these groups were solely based on how well these groups can perform their job duties remotely versus in a team, how well our business’s investments in digital infrastructure, and do not reflect any favoritism of any kind. In addition, we have reconfigured the office to allow each in-office employee a 6-foot radius from any other worker, which has reduced our total in-office capacity for the time being. We will continue to operate with remote-work mentalities of inclusiveness to operate as a whole team at all times. Any staff member who does not feel comfortable returning to work is welcome to have a one-on-one conversation with your boss regarding your circumstances. And likewise, if you feel there is a compelling case that your role needs to be at the office, please reach out.?
This won’t be the last to our changes, either.
We’ve rolled out new corporate policies regarding the cleanliness of rooms, staff behaviors, how to when to wash hands, how and when to use conference rooms, and how many people are allowed to be in one room at one time. Please review the new policies in our employee handbook here.
In addition we anticipate that policies, procedures, and operations will continue to evolve as we understand what’s working and what’s not.
We ask that all staff be nimble, patient, and curious as we embark on rolling out our new procedures, and know that we are in it together.?
If you have any questions, or want to talk confidently to the leadership team or HR team, please do so:
Or you can always ask questions to your manager.
We are excited to be on this path with you, of recovery.
Now, let’s get to work!
— Name Lastname?
How to communicate remotely
Central to success as a fully remote workforce is communication. But without the in-person, face-to-face communication of traditional office environments, remote teams face challenges.
- Meaning is hard to decipher with a lack of non-verbal cues
- Video lags and time zone differences pose challenges to speakers and attendees
- Misinterpretation is easy when context isn’t readily apparent
Straightforward, concise communication is key, and when in doubt, over communicate. 84% of remote teams rate virtual communication as more difficult than in-person communication, so be generous in your interpretation of others and explicit about what you mean. Put policies and guidelines in place for what communication channels and expectations.
Communicating in real time
Traditional small business workplaces operate heavily on real-time communication. This happens in the form of meetings, intra-office messaging apps, and popping by someone’s desk for a quick question.
Remote teams don’t have the luxury of shared physical space, but real-time communication is still important. We all know the joke that most meetings could have been emails, but the key word there is most. In truth, the collaboration possible in meetings can’t be replaced via email.
To email or not to email
Email — once called the most reviled form of communication — has become contentious, and it’s not all that hard to see why. It’s search function almost always stinks, it’s frustrating to manage never-ending threads with multiple stakeholders, and it can be confusing to stay on top of email etiquette.
So, email purposefully. Use it to convey detailed and lengthy information that employees or colleagues might want to refer back to.
Set guidelines for emailing, like all other aspects of remote work.
- Expectations of response time: 24 hours is standard
- How employees can indicate urgency: Use the subject line
- Best practices for sharing sensitive materials: Encrypt!
- How to make emails digestible: Avoid large blocks of text and put the most important stuff first
Consider alternative communication media. For remote teams, there are better ways to manage everyday communication. Use these tips for communication when building your remote team.
- Email: Go to email for long, explanatory messages that employees can go back and re-read for clarification.
- Instant messengers: Rely on tools like Slack or G Chat for quick questions or to coordinate with your team.
- Videoconferences or calls: Use synchronous communication for collaborative processes like decision making and brainstorming.
Help employees help themselves
Give employees tools to find information themselves. Avoid the scatter across Slack, Dropbox, Box, email, and more by designating a central repository for all policies, processes, essential company information, and documentation.
- Document meetings and send the highlights to ensure a shared understanding.
- Write action items and owners and share in the meeting notes.
Some remote teams choose to use an intranet like Confluence or Sharepoint for everything internal, and turn to an application like Google Drive for anything that’ll be shared externally, like with freelancers or contractors. Take a look at your small business to determine what’s best for you.
What employees need to work remotely
Dedicated workspaces can be the difference between a productive, focused day and a disjointed work from home experience. Whether it’s a separate home office or corner you’ve carved out of the living room, encourage your employees to create a separation of work-life spaces.
Or, require it. For more collaboratively demanding roles which rely heavily on conference calls and video chats, make “dedicated workspace” part of your applicant requirements.
Share these workspace tips with your remote team:
- Background: Select spaces with tidy, professional backgrounds for video conferences.
- Ergonomics: Use chairs that offer good support and desk arrangements that allow your arm to rest at 90 degrees.
- Noise: Play ambient music or use a white noise machine to cut down on outside distractions.
Spotty, sluggish WiFi is the albatross of remote work. You need a reliable connection to avoid video lags and effectively communicate with your team. SBOs can:
- Include broadband speeds as a requirement on applications
- Organize service upgrades for new hires
Foster a seamless work from home experience by providing workers with a few simple things. Doing so gives employees the tools they need to be successful and reinforces the understanding that remote work is as important and legitimate as on-site work.
- Purchase great headphones for employees
- Offer dual monitors or provide a new computer
- Fulfill standing desk or other ergonomic equipment requests
Connection on remote teams
Our ability to connect is what makes life meaningful. In the professional realm, authentic relationships lead to collaboration and cultivate trust on teams. But remote SMBs have to get creative without a shared physical space.
Slack is a great way to bridge this. The all remote team at InVision says “Slack is the heart of all the ways we interact for work and play.” They’re big fans of the app’s Donut plugin which introduces employees to other team members and encourages a virtual coffee or donut date.
Beyond Donut, use Slack channels for book clubs, to share cooking tips and favorite recipes, or to start a workout club where you hold one another accountable. Here you can celebrate wins, acknowledge birthdays, and share personal anecdotes.
Social isolation on remote teams is real. It’s part of what makes the migration from office to WFH for first-time remote workers so challenging. But you can still build satisfying, personal relationships that will make your work life richer.
Recruiting and hiring for remote workplaces
As you migrate your existing team to remote work, take note of how different people work best, and try to replicate that synergy with new hires. In lieu of in-person interviews, you’ll be assessing skills, abilities, and know-how remotely. Here’s how to suss out who could be a good fit.
What to look for in remote employees
- Hire good communicators: Great communication is the lynchpin for remote work. Interact with candidates and conduct interviews through a few different media, so you can assess their ability to communicate verbally, in writing, and on screen.
- Hire action-oriented people: You want individuals who are action-oriented. Waiting around for explicit instruction or feedback creates lags on remote teams. Ask open-ended questions to assess initiative.
- Hire self-motivated people: Remote work necessitates a level of self-motivation and time-management beyond that of office work. Take note of how quickly candidates respond to emails, fulfill calendar availability requests, or complete interview project assignments.
Use the job description to set expectations
Remote work takes many different forms these days. Some people have full-time jobs, while others are freelancers or contractors. Avoid confusion about the demands of the role by specifying in the job description.
All remote digital marketing agency Animalz includes a disclaimer on job descriptions that says:
“This is a full-time (40 hours per week) remote position. Although we applaud and encourage pursuing your passion projects, we want to make it clear that this is NOT a freelance/part-time position you can do in tandem with other major professional or academic endeavors.”
Other considerations for remote roles you should include in the job description are:
- Accessibility expectations
- Time zone requirements
- Workspace or specific equipment needs
Clear, instructive onboarding is your chance to impress upon new hires your SMB’s efficiency, organization, and welcoming culture. Good onboarding leads to happier, more fulfilled employees who do a better job at work.
It’s also a critical time in the employee lifecycle — 90% of employees make the decision to stick around for the long haul within the first 6 months. Make the transition to your company smooth with a cohesive onboarding process.
- Provide the requisite HR forms like I-9 employee verification, W-4, and state tax withholding.
- Share your company’s employee handbook and code of conduct.
- Supply payroll schedule and get new hire’s direct deposit information.
- Deliver any necessary equipment prior to your new hire’s start date.
- Have an email address and access to any company accounts they’ll need ready.
- Double check you have enough licenses for tools like Zoom, Slack, or VPNs.
- Introduce new hires to their team members with a company-sponsored videoconference lunch.
The remote team tech stack
Tools make remote work, work. Invest in the right tools to foster productivity and communication across your teams (and time zones!)
Slack is the clear front-runner here. Its ubiquity in the modern workplace means most people already have the gist of it, and Slack’s integrations make it easy to share files, make calls, track time, and more.
Google Meet, Skype, GoToMeeting, and Zoom are all popular options. Zoom is particularly remote friendly with its gallery view, and the Slack integration lets you hop into a call directly from the instant messaging app.
Identity and access management
IT still needs control over who is accessing what and from where on remote teams. Use an enterprise-grade Identity and Access Management (IAM), like LastPass Identity, to authenticate users, eliminate passwords, and secure every access point.
HR and payroll
Managing HR and payroll remotely will be tricky. Hourly workers will need to clock in and out appropriately, and managers need to manage and reconcile timesheets to pass to payroll. Automating this system into one dashboard makes this entire process much easier, cleaner, and manageable.
Zenefits offers a mobile-first HR and payroll product that automatically syncs employee records and employee type into one dashboard. Employees can use a mobile app from their phone to track hours that immediately syncs to payroll.
Remote work code of conduct template
We settled on a remote structure for our organization because we believe it helps people do their best work. We’re advocates for work-life balance and have personally experienced how remote work enables a greater degree of flexibility in our personal and professional lives. We measure outcomes, not hours, and trust the people we hire to do a great job.
Remote Work Code of Conduct Template
Mission and values
[Insert company mission and values statement]
General business info
Even fully remote companies need addresses. Ours is:
[Insert company address]
Communication + channels
Effective communication is how we create great products and services to better serve our customers. Strive to be straightforward, kind, and concise in your communication, and remember that being clear is always more important than being clever.
This is how we communicate at [company name].
- Instant messengers: Use [insert instant messenger name, e.g. Slack, Twist, G chat] to get quick answers, catch up with colleagues, or coordinate with team members
- Email: Send an email when you need to share detailed or lengthy information
- Video calls: Use video calls for collaborative meetings
Video call best practices
- Take video calls from an appropriate place: A quiet, distraction-free zone is best, like a home office or a coworking space’s Skype room. Please avoid taking calls from public places, like crowded cafes.
- Stay muted when you’re not talking: Background and connectivity noise can be distracting. Please keep yourself muted when others are speaking.
- Videos on: Video calls help us connect as a fully remote team, and we want as much face time as possible. Unless you’re having connectivity issues, please be camera ready.
- Look the part: We want you to be comfortable at work. For internal video calls, feel free to dress as you see fit. But for external, client-facing calls, we ask that you [insert applicable company requests].
Collaboration is key to our success as a fully remote team. Be friendly, respectful, and responsive when collaborating.
To work well together, we must be able to find answers, get feedback, and ask questions. As a general rule, please respond to all emails within 24 hours and instant messages by EOD [or other, specific company policy].
We’re here to set you up for success in your new home office or workspace. We’ll provide our employees with the equipment they need to do their jobs, like [a computer], [desk], and [reliable Wi-Fi]. We’ll also install any role-specific applications on your devices.
In return, we expect employees to source a quiet workspace, an interruption-free zone, and a tidy, professional background for video calls.
Security and Accessibility
Be smart about company device use. Please:
- Log out of devices when not in use
- Don’t leave devices unattended in public
- Change your passwords every 6 months, and practice good password hygiene
- [other, specific company security policies]