Sample Work From Home Policy – Is It Okay To Be Inconsistent?

Paul Remington's Profile

Sample Work From Home Policy & Best Practices

We have had a policy for working from home of not allowing employees to work from home.  However, I have discovered under certain circumstances (child sick, bad weather and difficult to come in) some Managers have allowed their employees to work from home instead of requiring the employee to take a PTO day.  We need to be fair to all employees and have a set policy for everyone and not pick and choose what circumstance is an exception and I am wondering how other companies handle this?

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Good question and I hope we get lots of feedback. Let me tell you our experience. I am generally not in favor of working from home. I am old school and I like face time and I like the opportunity to interact with my collegues. However, we allow our programmers to work from home. The IT manager tells us how hard they work but I have yet to see them finish a project on time, on budget, or on quality. Perhaps it is a reflection of management or employee expertise. But, maybe it is a reflection of no direct interaction with collegues. I would vote to try and keep your current policy intact but I would love to hear success stories and how we may adapt to the changing work environment.

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I worked in a division of a major motion picture/television studio for many, many years. There were about 10 executives. Our President allowed people to work from home when it was necessary for them to be at home for a legitimate reason. It worked spectacularly well. Bear in mind that we were a small group and all of us were extraordinarily dedicated professionals. We consistently worked long hours in the office so the freedom to work at home for a morning, a day or an afternoon seemed entirely rational, given the professionalism, maturity and dedication that we exhibited all year long. We worked at home if we were mildly ill--so that we did not spread illness. We also took calls on our vacations, when absolutely necessary. (This was not encouraged. It was "desperate times call for desperate measures.") I think Steve Belhap's post does not reflect the scenario described in the initial post. No one is talking about "working from home" on a regular basis, as in "telecommuting." The post refers to the occasional circumstance where someone cannot get to the office but does not need to take a personal or vacation day. Obviously, the feasibility of this policy is largely dependent on the employee's function. Most of my work was done on the internet and on the phone so working from home allowed me to be just as productive as being in the office. But, no, our division could not have functioned effectively if everyone telecommuted.

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does anyone have info around this that they can share, I have put together something but thats not enough

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There is a company handbook example here on Proformative http://www.proformative.com/resources/company-handbook that addresses many of these issues. I find it's not so much about creating a policy that employees can't work from home, but rather creating affirmative policies of what your employees ARE supposed to be doing and how.

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First, let's define the question more precisely. It isn't whether someone is working from home. Instead, it's whether they work someplace where you or other directly-interested parties don't see or observe them regularly.

My experience, after 40 years, is that success or failure depends partly on the employee and partly on the manager, as well as overall managerial support for remote work arrangements. Whichever route you choose, it's important to be consistent, uniform and clear about when and why exceptions are made. Otherwise, you will eventually be viewed as showing favoritism.

The keys to success are no different from managing an employee face-to-face: set clear expectations and priorities, confirm there is mutual agreement and understanding, make sure the employee has adequate tools and information to do the work, and have frequent and regular assessment and discussion (not just at the annual review) about both "good" and "needs improvement" performance. In other words, communication is paramount.

Steve, you acknowledge that you're "old school." More on that in a minute. I'm not sure your example of missed IT deadlines is a good one though. In my experience (please, no flaming from the IT people) IT deadlines are often missed, regardless of whether the work is done down the hall, in a home office, or outsourced. Let me use an alternate example: granting corporate customers credit and collecting the resulting receivables. People doing this work need clear guidlelines and objectives, system access, a telephone and periodic assistance/direction. In my company, people in our PA HQ did this work. But, we also had people located in several other states doing identical work. Sometimes, the remote people worked alone. Frequently, remote employees worked from home or in a shared office where they were the only ones doing this job (e.g., available space at an unrelated subsidiary of our large parent company).

We used these remote arrangements because they made business sense at many levels (what's more old school than that?). We aimed to hire employees best suited to our needs but couldn't always find them locally. We also benefited from the remote worker's superior business knowledge of a more local geographic market, we avoided the family disruption and costs of relocating people to HQ, and we scored consistently well on employee satisfaction measures. Performance measurement for remote workers was the same as for HQ employees. One example: either numeric collection targets and past due targets are met or they are not. Potential downsides, though, include limits on employee professional growth, getting promoted when management doesn't "see" you daily, and a higher chance of problems if the manager doesn't pay attention.

We've had remote employees for at least 20 years. Perhaps it's positive adverse selection but they have generally been among our best performers and turnover is very low. Interestingly, we have done several acquisitions in recent years. The expansion of our customer base required an expansion of the credit and collections team by integrating employees from the acquired firms. The unit manager of the most recently acquired group is old school. He wants to know what time people arrive and leave, if they spend too long at lunch, gossip too frequently at the water cooler, etc., etc. He didn't see how he could possibly manage someone without that level of daily interaction and insight. In my view, that is a negative reflection on his managerial skills and his confidence about those skills. As your comment hints, the world is changing and the population of virtual workers is growing. As managers, we can either adapt, embrace and lead this change to give our business the maximum chance of succeess or we can wish for the good old days. I'd rather look forward.

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Due to the nature of our work, in both the finance and client service area, we are limited with what can be done offsite. That said we have a very clear telecommuting policy that starts with treatment as an approved exception when needed. In advance of someone needing to telecommute, each party knows exactly what they can/not do from outside the office. As an example, the accounting department cannot process any credit cards externally as the only secure area is within our walls and through our secure fax line. As they might be restricted from getting all of their normal daily work done, they have to know how their working remotely will impact their colleagues who have to shuffle work to allow them to be productive. Additionally, clear guidelines about what constitutes a telecommuting day are communicated in advance and these include both what is accomplished and how communication to the home office works.

I know that Kmart corporation, whose HQ used to be in my hometown, still has a few hundred people working locally from home. They have clear expectations and are required to report to the local office on a regular basis (once a week/month/quarter).

The unmentioned problem with telecommuting can be a company's straying into the 24/7 worker. I have had to remind my current employer that those of us who 'leave on time' and then log-on from home are doing so to assist in getting work done and should not be assumed to do this all the time. That has been my biggest hurdle as I don't see my bosses understanding how this is counterproductive to improving employee morale. I have been lucky that the high turnover has not been in my department and am hopeful that my repeating this mantra will eventually help them discover one of the reasons they suffer this turnover regularly. If someone is allowed/expected to work from home or some other offsite area, clearly defined hours expectations that allow for the reasonable accomplishment of work need to be communicated and neither should cross the line.

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I agree that the key to success is setting annual goals and having frequent status meetings. I report to the Treasurer of the company we meet at the start of each year and agree on objectives for the new year and have established weekly 1/2 hr status meetings. The weekly meetings gives him a chance to measure my progress and communicate any change in priorities.

I have a global position that requires frequent international conference calls early in the morning or very late at night, working from home and having a flexible work day makes these easier on me and my family which makes everyone happy.

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In my last role, we were a dispersed company. The company was used to using telepresence and the like. Some employees (many, in fact) were full time remote, some part time, and some always in the office.

It was always at the discretion of the manager; the manager was responsible for delivering results, and for having their people available during working hours. A "we can't find them, they're working from home" would not have gone over well (and did not, when it seldom occurred).

Generally, the rules/guidelines were:
-Online (Skype, yahooIM, or similar) and available.
-Reasonable relative to their role (eg drill press operator or a receptionist...no).
-Employee needed to be seasoned enough, in their particular role, to execute remotely and be accountable for their time.
-Prepared (some defined home-office ability)

Caveats:
In California at least, if you went home to care for a sick child, and I called you with a question, I will have breached the PTO guidelines. If you are getting charged with a PTO day, I can't have my cake (not pay you) and eat it too (get some work out of you). So *not* granting this leeway could put you in trouble with the CA labor folks.

Further, to your premise, you do not need to be "fair" in the sense of having the same policy for everyone. You pay your managers to exercise their discretion, and so long as they follow the rules, "fairness" measured by "everyone has the same resources and constraints" is not a reasonable guideline. The reasonable guideline, imho, is "is the manager accountable, and are they providing a reasonable structure so that employees are productive."

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Let me highly recommend a book I just read -- Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke--The Big Idea That's Already Transforming the Way We Work by Cali Ressler, Jody Thompson. It shows: (1) a new work model that focuses purely on results; and (2) a lot of the flex-time, etc. that companies try to implement generally doesn't work effectively. The bottom line for their system is that voluntary turnover plummets and involuntary turnover skyrockets because you can almost immediately do away with your deadweight (folks who may spend the requisite time at the office but don't perform). There's no easy answer to your question, but our office just went to this model, and we're having good results.

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I worked at two organizations that had very inflexible work from home policies. All they did was create resentement among myself and my colleagues. I often drove to work in the midst of a "blizzard" or a family illness/crisis/issue and it just made me wonder whether it was worth it to work for an organization that did not value me enough to be flexible.

In today's world an inflexible policy does not work. You are asking your workers to "do more with less" and any consideration that you afford them will "go miles" with them. I would advise a more flexible policy no matter how hard it will be "to sell" internally.

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I've been working from my home office since 2006. My first remote position lasted 3.5 years and my current position is almost a year now. (And, yes, monitoring industry discussion boards like Proformative is part of my job.) My first remote post was for an outsource accounting firm where the majority of the staff and some of the execs were remote. My current employer, a non-profit focused on employee ownership and equity compensation, has the majority of the staff in the office and only my department (the equity comp folks) working remotely. Here are my observations after 4.5 years:

1. Seasoned professionals. Keith Perry's comment above is right on point. Remote staff must be professionals in every sense of the word and must have demonstrated that they are capable of managing their own time, meeting deliverables, and working cooperatively before leaving the cube.

2. Engaged managers. Jim Schwartz is on the money, too, when he allocates responsibility equally to the managers. Even the most seasoned professionals will feel abandoned if their managers are the "set it and forget it" type. Managers that know how to create relationships and that like mentoring will be much more successful in keeping remote workers engaged and on target.

3. Face time and recognition. When I first started working remotely I went into the office only for our annual all hands week, when we would do training and team building. My job was relatively independent of the rest of the team and time in office didn't really seem necessary. But about 1 year in, I had a family reason to be in town for a week, and arranged to spend working hours in the office. I took the time to get to know the office-based team, take meetings with my boss and the other executives, and after that week was over I found that communication with everyone had improved and my ideas were being solicited. During my last 2.5 years at the company I visited the office every 3-4 months, on my own dime, and built relationships with my colleagues that have outlasted the company. I also got some amazing work assignments, a great promotion and raise, and some challenging and enriching projects to manage during that period. During my last 1.5 years at the company I had an engaged manager that mentored me and supported me in stretch goals. I can honestly say that those 1.5 years have been the peak of my 20+ year career - I had my independence and great working relationships and I was recognized and well rewarded.

4. Productivity and hours. During my first year of relative isolation mentioned above, I pretty much worked "to the clock." I was an exempt employee and there was no mechanism like comp time for any overtime that I worked. Once I became an engaged employee, I stopped looking at the clock and would work to my projects. Sometimes I worked 60 hrs a week, sometimes I worked 35. In most states, the definition of an exempt employee often says something to the effect that if the work gets done then the hours don't matter, and that was how I worked. I more often worked 50-60 hr weeks than 40 hr weeks and, for me, the real danger was burn out. Fortunately my manager recognized that and worked with me to ensure that I got sufficient down time to stay healthy. By comparison, during the times that I would visit the office, my production usually plummeted because I could hear other staff having distracting personal calls, or standing in the cubeways visiting, or stopping by my cube for a visit, and to keep my projects on schedule I would go back to my lodging and work in the evenings, too. In the end, it was much less of a distraction and much more productive for me to be working at my home office and occasionally changing a load of laundry during the week than to be at the office with unscheduled interruptions and regular break times.

5. Resources. Having a real home office setup is important for me. Here are my essentials: an ample desk with a laptop connected to a large screen and wireless keyboard and mouse; Skype or VOIP phone; a printer (infrequently used); a PDF program (use it constantly - PDF995 has a nominal cost and great functionality); and, of course, high-speed internet. My first company provided all of those things to me, my current organization does not and I pay for everything. The biggest resource I miss from my first company is having remote IT assistance - we used Centerbeam and I loved it, we had about 40 people in the company and I believe it only cost about $15/laptop.

6. Policy. Keith is also right on about the "fairness" issue. At the accounting firm we had a specific telecommuting policy that allowed any staff member to apply to work remotely and the decision would be made by the manager with the staff person based on the appropriateness of the person's job function and professional development. The managerial review process took care of the fairness issue.

I hope this summary of my experience helps you understand the requirements for having successful remote workers. Because of the projects I managed, I was pretty involved in many of the administrative details of the accounting firm, so I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about how specific aspects of the situation were handled.

I love working remotely and, when appropriately managed, it really can boost a company's bottom line by reducing facilities costs and increasing staff productivity.

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I am looking for some work from home. I am an accountant. Can you help me? I have few clients and want to expand my client base.

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I'd love to help you, Ayaz, but I specialize in equity compensation administration and accounting and don't have any insight into accounting clients in your area. You might be better off contacting small accounting firms to see if they would like to partner with you. I have obtained several clients this way but, again, my specialty is something that many accountants don't have expertise in and prefer to outsource it to subject matter experts like me. If you have a particular expertise like this it does make it easier to get client referrals through strategic partnerships.

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Ayaz:
I'm happy to help you off-line. We're a boutique tax advisory firm and would be pleased to share some of our experiences with you.

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I have worked for organizations that has flexible & inflexible policy in this matter. I myself try to do everything in the office so I don't have to think about work on my personal time. However, this last winter of snowstorm in my home town made me realized the importance to keep such a policy open. When you allow the work from home option at work, you are going to make sure the infrastructure supports that policy. That infrastructure will help in the case of business continuity such as the traffic issue in the snowstorm we have experienced.

On a side note, my experience on why this doesn't work tend to be that companies haven't let it run it's course long enough. Just like any new product out in the market, there are going to be some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. A lot of times it really depends on how much the parties involved are willing to stand behind it.

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This discussion raises some additional considerations from a risk management perspective, whether the remote work is done because of an unusual situation (child sick) or as the standard work location.

If the work is done using a computer, and particularly the internet, what security is present on the employee's personal system? Is it as comprehensive as at the work location? Is it up-to-date? Do other people use the same computer, and are they as conscientious about not visiting "dangerous" sites as the employee (hopefully) is? Is it possible the employee will save their work on a CD or flash drive and bring an infection into the company when they load their files to their work PC?

Will the work be done using a wifi set-up? If so, will it be done at home or at a coffee shop? Is the coffee shop's wifi set-up secure? Is there a wifi next door that reaches into the coffee shop's premises and is used to "steal" sensitive information such as passwords, credit card information, or other personal information?

Will the employee have sensitive personal data? Will it be on a laptop, which is easy to lose or steal? We’ve all seen the news articles about breaches of company security requirements for confidential personal information because the laptop with the data was stolen.

In some cases, I understand that working from a non-company location can destroy the confidentiality protections that exist for an employee's work when done within the company's computer network. This can apply to both attorney-client privileged discussions as well as sensitive discussions about product development and "trade secrets."

Depending on the type of work the remote-worker performs, it might be a good idea to consult with an attorney on these these types of issues.

One last unrelated comment. It should be made very clear to everyone what the corporate policy is. If each manager can choose how and when to allow working offsite, then each manager should also make very clear - and be consistent about the application - the circumstances when off-site working will be allowed in their department. A muddled policy at either level can create just as much resentment as an inflexible program.

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You raise good issues, Debra. Fortunately, the state of technology today has advanced to the point where there are effective, economic solutions to all of them. For example, at the accounting firm that I worked at, we implemented a VPN that exceeded even normal in-office security protocols. Our laptops were configured to not allow copy or download of client data from our document management system, we had all client email routed through a secure system that pulled out all attachments and uploaded them to the DMS first, etc. And, of course, the laptops provided by the company were never used for personal activities or by family members - needless to say, that was the most challenging policy to enforce, but that's why a company is selective in which level of employee may be allowed to telecommute. So, in summ, it can be done, and it can be done safely - a company just needs to be willing to do the research and make the investment to ensure proper security on off-site equipment.

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My husband works from home full time gave up his 4 hour commute as his company offered a full time work from home option. Guess what he does with this time, work more and has out performed his goals consistently for the past 3 years. Initially their company started this to retain their women employees who had gone on maternity leave and requested for a flex arrangement, they found a spike in performance from all these employees that worked from home. Bottom line its the best thing ever to balance your life. My company allows work from home in extreme weather conditions and am very thankful for this. If you want a happy workforce this is the way to go.

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