How to Build an Employee Handbook for a Distributed Workforce

Technology and a work-from-home policy are just a few of the items to include when updating employee handbooks for a remote workforce.


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How To Build an Employee Handbook for a Distributed Workforce

Your employee handbook is an important document that helps familiarize new hires with company policies. But it’s not a static document — it must change as your company changes. These days, that means adapting and updating your employee handbook to meet the new reality of a remote workforce.

Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work survey revealed some findings about remote work, including:

  • 45% of respondents are working remotely due to the pandemic.
  • 41% indicated communication and collaboration have seen the biggest changes due to remote work.
  • 6% of people surveyed said they would like to work on a remote or hybrid basis permanently.
  • Having a flexible schedule (32%) and flexibility to work anywhere (25%) were mentioned as the top 2 benefits to remote work.

Remote and hybrid work environments where employees work partially in-office and partially at home are becoming the new norm. So, just how does your human resources department create an employee handbook for a distributed workforce?

Why you need to update your employee handbook for the new normal

Fiverr’s Anywhere Workers report states that over 23% of remote workers say the company they work for is now fully distributed. With the future of work including more remote employees, your organization needs to create an employee handbook that addresses the needs of a distributed workforce.

Effectively managing teams living in different locations spread out across multiple time zones is challenging. Remote workers will look to your employee handbook to spell out exactly what is expected of people working from home or on a hybrid in-office/remote basis. Staff will also expect to be able to access your handbook via the cloud no matter where they work.

Outdated handbooks that leave out important information could even be a liability in this new way of working. You may even have to add a state-by-state section that includes recent developments in employment law.

Remote workers will look to your employee handbook to spell out exactly what is expected of people working from home or on a hybrid in-office/remote basis.

What are the typical employee handbook categories?

Programs such as Microsoft Powerpoint and Google Slides provide free employee handbook templates to help you create your own document. You can make a copy of the template and fill it in with your company information to create a customized handbook or use it as a starting point for developing your own.

At the most basic level your employee handbook should include sections for:

  • Company name
  • Your story and who you are
  • Mission statement
  • Company values
  • Your brand and your voice
  • Product and services overview
  • Holidays
  • Social media policy
  • The date you last updated the employee handbook

Depending on how detailed you want to get, your handbook can also include information on general employment policies such as background checks, core working hours, pay schedule, and paid time off and sick day policies. A company directory is another great idea (as long as you keep it updated), listing how to reach out to HR and other important contacts.

How to update or create an employee handbook for remote teams

You may know the basics of creating an employee handbook. However, if some of your positions have remote options, do you know how to effectively address work-from-home policies? Here are 4 steps to follow to create an employee handbook for a distributed workforce.

Add a remote work policy

Telecommuting is probably something that was left out of your employee handbook until recently. With a distributed workforce becoming the new norm, you need to make sure you include a section on the future of work that spells out your remote work policy. Include things like what are the criteria for jobs that can be done remotely and how often, if ever, employees are expected to be in the office.

Be sure to also spell out how you expect remote team members to communicate with each other. Are you using Slack for internal communications, Trello or Asana for project management, and Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams for virtual meetings? This all needs to be included in the handbook.

Address basic technology requirements

Before granting an employee approval to work from home, they must meet certain technical requirements to perform their job. The most important technology for remote work is ensuring the employee’s home internet meets minimum speed requirements.

Your employee handbook should list minimum computer hardware and software expectations and whether your IT department will provide any of this tech or if employees must use their own equipment. Also, your handbook needs to spell out cybersecurity rules for remotely accessing your company’s network or dealing with documents in the cloud.

Define remote vs. on-site positions

Make sure to spell out the difference between in-office, remote, and hybrid positions. For instance, you may have certain roles that can only be performed in the office.

If you are a clothing manufacturer, your product development team may have to work on site picking out fabrics, buttons, and trims and making samples before the final product goes into production. Adding a section to your handbook that lists positions eligible for remote work will help avoid any ambiguity or confusion.

Communicate expected business hours

Giving employees the option to work globally lets you open positions to people in different time zones. You need to establish a policy that mentions when employees are expected to be available for answering pressing questions or attend virtual meetings.

For example, if your corporate headquarters are based in the U.K., you can add a section in your handbook stating employees must have availability between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. British Standard Time (BST). Or, if your marketing department hosts a weekly standup meeting Monday at 1 p.m. BST, your handbook should mention whether attendance is mandatory.

Get free employee handbook templates

The next time you are looking for employee handbook examples to help you create a corporate work policy document, do a quick search online. Zenefits offers free, customizable builder for creating and updating your employee handbook. These templates can help you ensure your handbook is up to date for an ever-evolving workforce.


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