With the rise of work-from-home, it's getting increasingly more important to put the agreements, requirements and responsibilities of each party down in writing, as part of a Remote Work Policy or "Work from Home" agreement. But what should be included in one of those contracts and why are they needed?
What is a remote work policy?
A remote work policy can either be an organization-wide document that captures rules and regulations around remote work or an addition to an existing employment contract, listing new requirements and responsibilities as an employee goes remote.
Especially the second case is more relevant than ever, as thousands of organizations migrate to a remote-friendly working environment in the face of COVID-19 and its long-term effects on the workforce.
As part of the official remote work policy, you would go over changes to the working hours, the scope of the work agreement, responsibilities of the remote worker that they should keep up during their days working from out of the office and more important rules out grey areas, like what happens with company equipment or who is responsible for office-related costs.
They are often a slim contract to sign, rarely ranging over two full pages and are therefore often overlooked. You may not need it, but it's better to be on the safe side.
Why should I have a written remote work policy?
While one big part of the remote work policy is about managing expectations and clearing the scope – something that could potentially be done in an internal memo as opposed to a formal contract – the other half is for legal coverage as well.
For example, it's important to put the policy behind relocations and compensation plans in those cases down in writing. Folks need to adhere to security measures to make sure that internal data isn't leaked and the organisation behind intellectual property when someone works without strict working times from home should be regulated as well.
Additionally, in many existing employment contracts, executing work and protecting intellectual and physical property is only covered in the office. For all those cases, it's necessary to add the exception of remote working as a possible avenue as well.
What needs to be part of a work-from-home agreement?
A work-from-home agreement can easily be dismissed in most cases. If you want to protect yourself and your employees from harm, these pieces should make it into the policy.
Scope & Duration
There are dozens of variations of remote work. You may have a mixed model, where folks spend a few days per week at home. You may have a work-from-home policy that allows people to take a certain amount of home office days. You might be partly remote, with a few folks in the office and another batch remotely or finally, you may be fully remote, no office whatsoever.
Additionally, especially during the pandemic, you may want to have a limited move to remote work for a while. You may want to specify that folks can work fully remote for the summer, to avoid the hot office that doesn't run A/C. There are no limits to possible configurations that you might go through.
Putting the kind of remote work you would like to run, the limits of it and the responsibilities you associate with that should be part of your policy.
Relocation & Compensation
If you run a fully remote operation, it's more than reasonable for employees to decide to move somewhere else, where they like it better. Your job as an employer is to build a relocation strategy and decide whether the overall compensation is bundled with the location of an employee. You might also start to think about international contracts and compliance.
Additionally, it's often expected or even governed by the law that you as an employer have to reimburse office-related costs. As our homes turn into offices, where do you draw the line? It's common to cover internet and electricity, but possibly you might also want to cover part of the rent or a fixed desk in the office?
If you expect employees to travel to a main headquarter a few times per year, that should be put down in writing as well. You would, for example, mention how much is covered during that period of travel and what needs to be covered by the employee.
Remote Working Requirements
Remote work doesn't equal remote work. You should be clear what's expected from your newly transitioned remote workers and where the limit is. For example, while you may have used time tracking before to record working times, that's no longer feasible when working from home. After all, it's sometimes hard to draw the line between work and life and things start to flow within each other.
At the very least, you should specify the minimum requirements to make this set up work: Employees should work from somewhere where they are not distracted – in front of the TV or on a beach is mostly not a feasible place for focused work. A stable internet connection is a must, so it needs to be arranged either at home or at a shared office.
Breaks are still crucial to recharge, so prevent folks to continue working for hours on end, at nights or weekends. Unless they take the days off otherwise, it's usually not a longterm solution. Finally, make sure that communication is set up in a way that works for everyone. Either being available on Zoom and Slack during working hours or fully implementing async communication.
Changes to existing Policies
If you are transitioning from office to remote work, you might have multiple policies already in place that are interfering with your move to remote work. A common policy is presence time, for example. If you previously had a policy that employees have to be in the office between certain times on a workday, that is no longer possible. The same counts for certain perks or dress codes.
You will also want to specify if a new policy replaces an old one. For example, your intellectual property policy usually overwrites the one already agreed on in the employment contract. New security measures might come into place and there will be new rules about taking equipment home.
Equipment & Security
Finally, the way you handle your equipment changes with a move to remote work. It's traditionally the case that all work done on office machinery belongs to the company, but as people work from home and might mix private and work, that can often come back to bite you.
Additionally, more security measures need to be in place. It's often a good idea to require office traffic to go through a VPN, to use a certain standard of password and have written down policies on theft or data loss.
Download the sample Remote Work Policy PDF
Excited to see how a remote work policy like that could look like? Let us help you out.
This sample policy can be your start to a legally compliant and valid remote work agreement. By now, you should know the ins-and-outs of it, now the only thing that's left to do is to implement it. Best of luck!