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Remote working policy: How to create one for your business

People & Leadership

Remote working policy: How to create one for your business

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a significant shift in the way we work. Among these changes is the move to remote working across many sectors.

The Right to Request Remote Work Bill sets out a legal framework for requesting, approving and refusing requests for remote working.

Under the new legislation, all employers must have a formal remote working policy in place.

This article will offer advice to employers on what they need to do to create and implement a remote working policy.

It will highlight what the policy is, why it’s important (and helpful) for a business and its employees, and what should be included within it.

Here’s what we cover:

A remote working policy is a set of guidelines around a company’s arrangements for employees who work outside the usual office location – this can be a dedicated space in their home, for example, or a remote working hub.

This document should clearly explain the obligations and conditions for employers and remote employees, and include details on relevant issues such as eligibility, communication, time-tracking processes and data security rules.

A company’s remote work policy will apply to employees working remotely on a full time or part-time basis.

However, when drafting your policy, it’s advisable to make it as comprehensive as possible so that it answers all potential questions around your organisation’s remote working arrangements.

A comprehensive policy will set out your expectations for your employees and help them feel more confident in their role and more connected as part of the team.

It will also ensure they’re aware of their rights and obligations under their contracts.

Your company’s policy will depend on its objectives, including:

  • Retention of experienced staff
  • Expanding the talent pool, including those with specialist skills
  • Reducing overheads on office rental and energy costs
  • Lowering your carbon footprint.

Eimear Walsh, recruitment director with Alternatives, part of the Brightwater Group, explains that companies with a clear and transparent remote working policy in place will be seen as more appealing places to work.

Eimear says the current recruitment market is “very much a candidate-driven one” and flexibility is top of the list.

A policy around remote working is important for new employees and potential candidates, so they fully understand the expectation of the role.

Eimear adds that it can help with attraction and retention of employees, and open up the pool of candidates.

The benefits of remote working for employees have been well documented, with cutting out the commute top of the list.

Remote and hybrid working also allows for more flexibility around family commitments and childcare.

For many employees, there’s no negative effect on productivity.

As an employer, putting in place robust structures around connectivity and team communication can help to counter potential feelings of isolation.

Having a clear guide around your remote working arrangements will help your employees navigate the challenges of remote working.

Your company’s policy should start by clearly stating its objective; for example: to facilitate any employees who wish to work remotely on a full time or hybrid form where possible.

It should then cover the following points:

Eligibility

If your business is a customer-facing one such as in retail, hospitality or healthcare, only some roles can likely be carried out remotely.

Those employees in client-facing roles may be required to attend the office for team meetings and/or client consultations.

Another factor that may affect whether an employee can move to remote working is their level of experience.

If this is the case, the policy should state the length of service – perhaps on completion of probationary period – before an employee can ask to work remotely.

Request to work remotely

The policy should outline the process of how eligible employees submit a request to work remotely.

It should include the key points of the legislation around the right to request remote work and state the grounds on which the request can be refused.

Break down the process into steps to make it as clear as possible.

This might start with the employee checking the policy to see if they are eligible to apply, submission of a written request, meeting with their supervisor and HR team to discuss how the arrangements might work, and a formal agreement if the request is accepted.

Clear processes

The policy should set out the processes for completing HR-related tasks such as booking leave, claiming expenses and submitting timesheets.

Outline your staff structure so remote employees are familiar with the chain of command and they know who to contact with work queries and other related issues.

Communication

Whether remote employees work fully or partially outside the office or from a home office or hub, frequent and effective communication is key to maintaining productivity and morale.

The policy should have guidelines on the communication tools or systems the remote team use.

You may already use an integrated cloud-based system such as Google Workspace or Microsoft Teams or Zoom for video calls and mobile and emails for all other communication.

How often the team will need to catch up will depend on the nature of their roles.

Include guidance on whether employees should have their microphones and/or cameras on for meetings or just during one-on-one calls, and if there’s a specific protocol around client and customer calls.

Availability

How flexible you can be around where and when employees work will depend on the nature of your business.

State the core working hours and expectations around availability during those hours factoring in regular breaks and meal times.

Include your expectations on how responsive – to emails, customer queries or website chat – they need to be.

For instance, remote teams working across different time zones might need to have a specific number of hours overlap to facilitate collaboration.

You might consider investing in a platform system where employees can clock in and out, or log hours, which could integrate with the client billing system, so time is managed and projects are costed as efficiently as possible.

Mental health

One of the biggest benefits of remote working is increased flexibility for employees.

However, this can lead to them not fully switching off, particularly if their workplace is in their home. Having clear boundaries around work and home can help avoid burnout and work-related stress.

Remote working can be isolating and your policy should include a section on care for mental health and wellbeing.

Employees should be encouraged to talk to their line manager or another colleague if they are struggling to adjust to working remotely.

Virtual and in-person meetups can help to keep the team connected and motivated.

Additionally, setting up a social committee to organise events such as ‘casual Fridays’ or ‘bring your pets on a Zoom call’ can help teams find common ground and boost morale.

Roles and expectations

Setting out clear expectations around productivity for remote employees is an essential part of the remote working policy.

In other words, operational processes should remain efficient and employees should be able to meet deadlines.

Transparency around hierarchy and work quotas can help alleviate any concerns and help employees to organise their work schedule to meet targets.

Other expectations to include are around performance reviews – how often they will happen and the evaluation process.

Remote workers should have equal access to training and promotional opportunities as office-based employees. The policy should also outline the circumstances where remote contracts can be ended.

Don’t forget to include guidance around mandatory training on new software and other systems, so teams can move as seamlessly as possible to a remote working environment.

Setting up a workspace

Set out general requirements for your employees’ work environment. For example, an ergonomic workstation in a dedicated space with sufficient lighting and minimal interruptions and a reliable internet connection.

Requirements depend on your business and will vary depending on the role.

Remote employees will need – at a minimum – secure access to the company network or cloud-based system.

Generally, most remote workers will need the following:

  • PC/laptop, keyboard and screen/monitor and printer
  • A desk and chair that fits specified ergonomic specs
  • Phone – this could be a landline or mobile
  • Reliable broadband connectivity
  • Software including anti-virus protection.

If you have several team members working remotely, it might be time to invest in collaborative tools if you haven’t already done so.

There are many integrated systems out there that include document storage and sharing, collaboration, project management and communication.

You may agree to contribute to or reimburse employees for certain specified expenses. This is covered in more detail in the compensation and expenses section below.

Workplace safety

Employers are potentially liable for injury sustained by employees who are working from a home office so setting out the requirements around health and safety is essential.

Employ best practice guidelines around office safety and include recommendations on injury prevention measures such as keeping walkways clear of clutter, having good lighting and using surge protectors for computers and other electronics.

Outline reporting of work-related illness and injury and incident reporting procedures, and provide contact details.

Employees should also check that their own equipment is adequately insured. Check with your insurance provider that your employer’s liability insurance covers home offices and hubs, and whether equipment is covered in remote offices and while in transit.

Compensation and expenses

The policy should include whether there will be a change to the basic salary level for those working remotely and other related information such as bonuses and overtime rates.

It should state what equipment the company will provide and if the company is responsible for expenses associated with working at home. For example, you might provide a company laptop and software, but employees must pay for their own broadband and phone and/or desk, chair, etc.

If an employee is required to purchase equipment and software, explain how they can submit a claim for reimbursement.

You should include your travel expenses policy for those who are required to travel to in-person meetings with clients or attend work-related events.

As an employer, you can pay your employees up to €3.20 per day to cover expenses such as internet, phone and electricity before they incur a taxable charge.

Otherwise, employees can claim a portion of certain expenses against their tax by submitting a tax return at the end of the year. More information on claiming tax relief on expenses can be found on the Citizens Information website.

Cybersecurity and data privacy

Set out company policy around cybersecurity and data protection, and explain the measures remote employees must take to ensure privacy and security of company data, client information and proprietary information and assets.

Follow best practice guidelines for securing confidential information and remind employees they should not discuss or share sensitive information outside of a private office environment.

The measures should include encryption of sensitive client information and company data, use of anti-virus software and firewalls, use of secure encrypted passwords and two-step verification and avoiding the use of public wifi networks.

In addition, employees should be familiar with and respect GDPR rules.

IT support

If your team is growing, you may need dedicated IT support to assist employees with tech-related queries. The process around this should be outlined in the policy document.

Remote employees who are experiencing technical difficulties should know how to submit a query or ticket or contact a virtual helpdesk when required.

While the pandemic has brought about a significant change in attitudes to remote working, the area is still relatively new. It will take some time for employers and employees to adjust to remote and hybrid working.

If you need additional guidance, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has compiled a helpful checklist for employers to navigate the adoption of remote working arrangements.

Creating a remote working policy might seem like a huge challenge.

But if you allow a lead-in time for full implementation while encouraging input from employees, you can use this feedback to update and refine your policy over time.

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