By now, most HR leaders know their company needs a remote work policy—but many are struggling with where to start. There is safety in ambiguity. Employers don’t want to be perceived as anti-remote work. Too many who’ve tried to set limits or enforce in-office days have faced repercussions and had to reverse course for fear of losing talent.
Ambiguity is becoming a risk, however. In my company Topia’s latest annual Adapt survey, 94% of employees agreed that they should be able to work from anywhere, so long as they get their work done. Although 82% said their employer had a remote work policy, 48% felt that it existed just to make remote work requests easier to reject. Meanwhile, 84% of HR respondents agreed that flexible and remote work “is a key part of their talent strategy.” That message isn’t getting through.
So, pressure is on HR leaders to construct remote work policies that attract and retain talent—while still minimising the chance that employees violate tax and immigration laws.
Crafting a policy that strikes the balance of flexibility and risk mitigation can be daunting for anyone, but it’s not as hard as it seems. There’s an art to constructing a policy that makes ‘yes’ the default answer to most remote work requests. Let’s talk through how to get started.
Identify your cultural message
A remote work policy is a cultural stance on how much mobility, autonomy, and flexibility an organisation is willing and able to entrust to its workers. Decide with the leadership team where you will land on the spectrum from remote first to in-office based on your risk tolerance (outlined below). Be sure to consider the ‘why’ to keep yourself grounded as you further develop the policy and to prepare for future communications. Context is always key in communication to employees. For example, “At ABC Company, we offer you the freedom to work from anywhere because you know where, when, and how you will be able to do your best work and live your best life.”
Set your risk tolerance
Remote work comes with two main compliance issues: taxes and immigration. As a leadership team, it’s important to align on the level of granularity that you want your policy to address. As an example, is it okay for someone to work from another state or country for one or two days as part of an extended weekend? How about for one or two weeks? Once you’ve landed on your high-level approach, HR needs to identify how you will identify, manage, and track these requests. As with scaling any HR process, investing in technology is key.
Add the fine print
Once you’ve set the overarching message and selected your risk level, decide:
Is there anywhere that employees are not allowed to work?
This list should cover anywhere with security concerns, sanctions, and legal issues. Partner with your IT, Security, and Legal teams on this list.
Where and how long can employees work away from their primary work location without requesting permission?
The answer could be a certain length of time, anywhere the employee is not required to have a visa, anywhere that is not on the restricted list or a combination of all three.
Who do employees notify before working remotely?
This will most likely be their manager and/or HR.
Under what conditions do employees need to ask permission before working remotely?
The trigger could be a length of time (e.g. over 10 days) or a case where the employee is new to the company and is still in their onboarding period. There should be a quick, digital process for submitting the request and getting it approved.
Do they need to work in the time zone of their primary work location, or not?
Let managers decide, but ensure you’ve provided them with adequate support and enablement to have these conversations. It’s going to depend on the department and role, but what should managers be thinking about and how can you support them in having the conversation if the answer is no?
What, if any, resources will your company provide to support remote work?
Decide whether to offer a budget for a home office, co-working membership, work-friendly coffee shops, etc.
What do employees need to be reminded of when they work remotely?
Be clear that they need to have a reliable and secure internet connection, be working in a safe environment, and check their health insurance before traveling.
The Key Move
Celebrate and promote your remote work policy and encourage employees to use it.
Share the exotic islands, mountain towns, and cultural destinations where employees are preapproved to work on a whim. Urge employees to extend their vacations into ‘workcation’ trips. Highlight the teams that meet up in cool places to work face-to-face. By preemptively saying ‘yes’ to these examples, you will make opportunities rather than rule the center of your remote work policy.