Creating a Remote Work Policy that Works

Work from home programs have enjoyed an incredible run of success since 2006, when such policies were first adopted by industry leaders like Yahoo! and Best Buy.  In fact, recent data from the National Small Business Association shows that work from home arrangements jumped 44% in 2012.  Additional research from the Telework Research Network suggests that more than 3 million workers now consider their home offices to be their “primary offices.”

However, work from home programs have come under fire in recent months following Marissa Mayer’s controversial decision to order Yahoo! employees back to the office.  This move seemingly flies in the face of all the research suggesting that at-home employees are not only more productive, but more satisfied with their work status in general.

However, Mayer’s decision does make some sense when looked at objectively.  In an internal memo, Mayer wrote that collaboration is improved in an office environment and that “speed and quality” will both follow suit.  Considering that the failing search company needs all the help it can get, it might be wise to heed research that has shown that some telecommuting situations can erect barriers between employees and that, without regular interaction, employees can become disassociated with their work.

But is that reason enough to throw work from home policies out the window altogether?

Clearly Best Buy – another early adopter of such programs – thinks not.  Even though the company recently trashed their “Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) plan,” spokesman Matt Furman told the Star Tribune that the company does still see merit in the premise behind work at home policies.

“It makes sense,” Furman said, “to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done.”  He continued by saying that work from home “used to be a right about which a manager had no say. Now it’s a conversation.”

So how can you balance employee satisfaction, productivity and collaboration with a remote work policy that works?  Consider the following suggestions…

Defining Your Remote Employee Policy

Clearly there is a call for work from home in various industries and the practice does seem to have some benefits.  You can you balance the good with the bad and create a policy that works for you and your employees using these five steps:

Definite Goals

When measuring the effectiveness of remote work, you absolutely must switch your management style from rating actions to rating goal achievement.  You can’t monitor everything your employees are doing while they’re not in the office – so don’t even try.  Instead, set forth concrete goals for your employees to tackle and judge their performance by how close they come to hitting the mark.  There’s a lot to be said for caring more about what gets done, rather than how it gets done.

Team Time

Cooperation is an essential aspect of some – if not all – work projects, but working from home tends to eliminate that necessary team time.  That’s why it’s important to schedule regular group meetings and team events that include remote workers.  This allows you to make sure everyone is on the same page and lets your employees engage in the creative back-and-forth needed to maintain productivity while away from the office.

Managerial Approval

Take a page from Best Buy’s new remote work manual and ensure that every work from home instance is approved by management on an individual basis.  By eliminating the blanket “right” of employees to work at home, you and your management team can keep a closer eye on productivity.  Keep projects in-house when you feel they’ll benefit from collaborative work and managerial oversight, but allow workers to head home when a project’s success will depend on individual and independent attention.


Keeping your workers engaged with each other and with the company is essential, as you need to avoid the costly disconnect that remote workers often acquire after extended periods away from the office.  One way to do this is to provide communication tools that allow remote-working individuals to remain connected.  Hardware options, such as smartphones and low-cost tablets may be worth considering, but so are collaborative software tools, like group-accessible forums, to-do lists and chat programs.

Performance Appraisals

Keep your employees on track with regular performance appraisals.  In traditional office environments, such appraisals are generally few and far between.  However, when it comes to remote employees, you need to ensure that your workers are remaining on-task all the time.  Regular appraisals every couple of months – or even monthly – allow individuals to recognize areas in which they’re meeting or exceeding your expectations, as well as areas in which they need to strive harder.

As mentioned above, all of these different priorities should be contained within a codified remote work policy in your employee handbook.  If you allow your employees to work from home without a definite policy in place, you’re setting yourself up for disaster – as well as potential legal complications down the road.  Have everything detailed – including employee expectations and responsibilities, consequences for failure, and management metrics – before you ever give remote work the green light.

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